Over fifty people have been arrested in the last month after complaints of sand being taken from near drinking water sources

The Kancheepuram District Administration and police have cracked down on the use of bullock carts for indiscriminate quarrying of sand from the Palar and Cheyyar river beds. Over 50 cases have been booked against bullock cart owners in the last month and as many people have been arrested, police said.

This followed a report submitted by a team appointed by district collector L. Sitherasenan to enquire into the condition of the river beds. There had been allegations that bullock cart owners were flouting the rules that had been laid down to streamline quarrying using bullock carts. Cart owners, on the other hand, had alleged police harassment.

Until last month, bullock cart owners were allowed to quarry and transport 15 cubic feet of sand from river beds twice a day after paying Rs. 42 as quarrying charges to the Public Works Department. Licences were also issued to the cart owners. Further, additional restrictions on quarrying — sand should be quarried between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., it should be sold or used for construction activity within a 15 km radius of the quarry, no quarrying or transporting of sand should take place on holidays, validity of the bill issued is restricted to 5 hours from the time of issue — were also in place.

Official sources said that these rules were not followed with cart owners taking sand from river beds early in the morning every day. At some places, such as Sevilimedu, they dumped the sand in open places from where lorries or three-wheelers could transport them to far off places, they added. The district administration began receiving complaints from non-governmental organisations and residents regarding such violations and alleging that drinking water resources were under threat.

Meanwhile, bullock cart owners submitted memoranda urging the collector to allow them to continue with sand quarrying and selling activity.

The team of officials appointed by the collector in the aftermath of these complaints reported that sand was being quarried from near drinking water supply sources of various local bodies. Thus, the Collector during the second week of April banned sand quarrying in Palar and Cheyyar river beds at 22 locations in the district.

He also warned that provisions of the Goondas Act would be initiated against those who quarry sand near drinking water sources. The police also got into the act as many sand-laden carts were obstructing traffic. Cases were booked under sections of the IPC including 379 (punishment for theft), 447 (criminal trespass) and 430 (damaging of irrigation or drinking water sources) read with section 21 (1) of Mines Mineral Act.

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