Chief Minister intervened on a recommendation by District Expert Committee
Despite several studies highlighting the deteriorating condition of the Periyar on account of unbridled sand mining, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s office intervened to issue permission to open up more sand mining ghats (kadavu) in the Periyar, overruling a recommendation by the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies (CESS) for the 2012-13 season.
Information obtained through an application filed under the RTI Act showed that an order from the Chief Minister’s office allowed 12 more ghats than were recommended by CESS to be opened in the Okkal, Koovappady, Kanjoor and Neeleeswaram-Malayattoor panchayats.
The Chief Minister’s office intervened after the District Expert Committee on sand mining, which is authorised under the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act 2011 “to identify the kadavu or river bank in a district in which sand removal may be permitted” subject to the other provisions of the Act and the rules made thereunder.
The Act also says that the total quantity of sand that can be mined from the ghats has to be fixed with the help of guidelines from expert agencies like the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies and Centre for Water Resources Development and Management.
The District Expert Committee felt that there were some defects in the CESS recommendations and that these had to be rectified.
The decision to approach the government was taken at the committee meeting on November 8, 2012. Orders from the Chief Minister’s office came on December 4, 2012.
The Chief Minister issued the permission for a period of six months during the last season and environmentalists fear that the permission for the extra ghats would have continued into the new season, starting October 2013, if not for the National Green Tribunal verdict in early August which made it mandatory for all sand mining to get environmental clearance. The ghats that opened up on the recommendation of the Chief Minister are: Kavunkalkkadavu and Thuruthu Parakkadavu in Okkal panchayat; Mundakkalkkadavu and Vallamkkadavu in Kanjoor panchayat; Maanikyathankkadavu (Kattungal), Pottasserrykkadavu and Muzhikkadavu 1 and 2 in Koovappady panchayat; Eettakkadavu, Companykkadavu, Muzhikkadavu and Vysyamkkadavu in Malayattoor-Neeleeswaram panchayat.
Information received under the RTI Act also shows that the Chief Minister intervened on a recommendation by the District Expert Committee, which is authorised by the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act 2011 to approve sand mining activities.
Studies have pointed out that the quantity of sand being mined from the Periyar is at least 30 times the actual quantity that can be taken out without causing damage to the river’s environmental system. There are a total of 54 ghats that are opened to sand mining in the district. The ghats are located, among others, in the Kavalangad, Keerampara, Kalady and Kuttampuzha panchayats.
River sand mining is banned for three months during the monsoon and the new season starts in October. Though the new season is open, sand mining operations have officially been halted by the National Green Tribunal verdict.