Red dust sweeps across the barely motorable roads near Variyappadam in Peruvayal grama panchayat. One can notice gaping holes at several parts of the landscape, all of those created in the gap of two weeks before the District Collector ordered the stoppage of clay mining activities in the region.

The holes in the area are the result of the latest round of mining that started two weeks ago. Major mining activity was taken up in the plots adjacent to the Chaliyar River, a perennial water source. The contractors had employed nine JCBs and two big earth movers simultaneously to remove a large amount of clay from the plots.

Local people say it was a ‘reign of terror’ during which the local anganwadi remained closed for three days due to the non-stop of movement of trucks that engulfed the area in dust.

For the local people who were in the fore front of protests against the mining, the aftermath of these activities now looms large in the form of water scarcity and a high risk of flooding during the monsoons. The plots have so far served as protective walls and have prevented the water from flowing into the paddy fields and 75 houses on the other side in the rainy season. Now, the mining activity has taken away that natural anti-flood mechanism.

“As per the rules, no clay mining should be done in areas closer to the river. When the Additional District Magistrate measured the distance from the river to the mining areas, it was found to be less than 40 metres. The permissions were secured by giving false records of the distance,” says C.K. Aali, who spearheaded the protests among the residents of the area. The local people who protested were first offered money and later threatened with dire consequences if they created hindrance for the mining work. Not cowing down to the pressure, they created a trench at the exit point from the plots to stop the mining trucks from leaving the plots, and informed the local police.

“The sand and clay mining has been happening in these areas for a long time. The local people informed at the right time, and so it could be stopped for the time being,” said S. Sajeev, SI of the Mavoor Police Station.

The unfettered mining over the last few years has rendered most of the wells in the area dry.

The people depend on a few panchayat taps from which the water trickles down for three hours daily. Ironically, one of the mining lobby’s major tactics was the offer of Rs.1.5 lakh funds to increase the depth of the panchayat well. However, the protest committee made sure that this trick did not succeed.

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