Years of illegal sand-mining has led to the formation of deep underwater pits on the riverbed.

Cherupuzha River has claimed the lives of innocents, including children. But the river itself is a victim of indiscriminate sand mining.

Years of illegal sand mining has led to the formation of deep underwater pits on the river bed, covered flimsily by underwater rocks, giving a false sense of security and underwater foothold.

For an unsuspecting person, the pits are death traps. Authorities maintain an eerie silence even as a holiday dip in the river turns fatal as in the case of teenagers Nazeera and Mohsina on Sunday.

The two 14-year-olds were on a visit to their relative’s home at Cheruppa in Mavoor panchayat. They had joined two other friends for a trip to the river on Sunday morning.

Local people had heard cries for help and rushed to the river bank. Though they were able to save two, the river claimed Nazeera and Mohsina.

“Despite the ban on sand mining, these activities continue in Mavoor. The indiscriminate mining has caused serious environmental changes. Now, two innocent girls have lost their lives,” Salam Nedukandy, a local social activist, said.

Resemblance

Locals say that Sunday’s tragedy bears an uncanny resemblance to a near-fatal incident which happened in the neighbouring Koduvally panchayat 10 months ago. The latter too involved underwater pits in Cherupuzha River and it was only the heroism of a young boy that saved his friend’s life.

On May 5, 2013, 10-year-old Fayiz M.P. saw his friend Furaiz P.C., aged 11, disappear under the water near Thottinkadavu in Koduvally. The duo had been wading in knee-deep water to catch fish in a towel. Fayiz jumped in and managed to pull his friend to safety.

The boys, whom The Hindu met, described what lay beneath the watery surface as a ‘dark, dark, hole’. Their families said the hole was not there the previous day.

But Assein K. was not so lucky.

He lost his eight-year-old son, Mohammed Siyabuddin, to a hole in the river at Kundathilkadavu.

Four months before Fayiz rescued his friend, Mithilaj, a 22-year-old construction worker from Thamarassery, drowned at Veluthedathkadavu. Locals say he did not know the river layout and must have stepped on some rocks underwater hiding a pit.

“The mining is done at night. There is no way to know where the mining has been done. But we have to look the other way because many come from poor families,” says a resident T. C. Kunhimoyin.

Sand in demand

One truck-load of sand costs Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000. Hectic construction activities in the panchayat, situated 23 km away from Kozhikode city, ensure that sand is always in demand.

Cherupuzha Samrakshana Samithi, a group of young persons fighting against river mining, say their efforts have hardly cut any ice with the local people, even family and friends.

“They asked us, ‘You have built your houses from the sand we gave, now you turn against us,” Mohammed Noufal, a samithi member and Assistant Professor of Commerce at Kodanchery Government College, says.

Now, it is again time for the local people to decide whom they want to save – the sand mafia or their children.

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