Sand mining in the basin of the Azhikkal Port here has been mired in controversy following the decision of the Port Department to issue the sand mining licence solely to a Communist Party of India (Marxist)-controlled co-operative society, much to the chagrin of another co-operative society controlled by the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) that has also applied for the licence.

Sand mining workers affiliated to the the Kannur Taluk Labourers' Welfare Co-operative Society (KTLWCS), controlled by the INTUC, are on the path of agitation against the Port Department's decision to issue the licence to the Kannur District Building Materials Co-operative Society (KDBMCS), under the control of the CPI(M), in defiance of what the former called the assurance by the authorities that both the societies would be issued the sand mining permits. The Port Department's decision on Wednesday sparked protests by the INTUC workers who alleged that the KTLWCS was denied permission for sand mining in the Valapattanam river at Azhikkal for political reasons. The police on Thursday arrested and removed 100-odd protestors who opposed the issuance of sand mining pass to the CPI(M)-controlled society.

KTLWCS Chairman and INTUC State General Secretary K. Surendran said that the agitation against the Port Department's decision would continue till the decision was revoked. Denying the permit to his society registered in 2003 and issuing the pass only to the KDBMCS registered in 2006 was a clear discrimination motivated by political consideration, he said adding that the protesting sand mining workers of the KTLWCS would not allow the sand mining by the KDBMCS in the port basin.

The permission for manual dredging of the basin by local sand miners had been issued during the previous United Democratic Front government after it was found that the mechanical dredging done in 2003 failed to serve the purpose of deepening the port basin. The government then had issued 124 licences in two phases to accelerate sand mining that would allow the Port Department to earn additional revenue and provide livelihood to local workers engaged in sand mining activities. When the present LDF government came to power, the licences had been revoked. When this led to a shortage of sand for construction purposes, the authorities issued licence solely to the CPI(M)-controlled society which was formed then. The authorities had also refused to renew the licences of those who had been already engaged in sand mining in the basin. Those licensees had approached the High Court to get their licences restored and the High Court had directed that the licenses be restored in 30 days if the Port Department revived manual dredging.

When contacted, Mr. Surendran said that his society had applied for the licence in tune with the LDF government's policy decision that sand mining licences would be issued only to the societies. His society's sand mining workers were all local workers whose licences had been revoked by the LDF government. He also said that the manual dredging in the basin by more people would be a solution to the shortage of sand for construction purposes.

According to a shipping agent here, though the term 'manual dredging' itself was coined by the Port Department to justify an activity outside its purview, removal of sediments from the channel in the basin was essential for the development of the port. The channel now has no depth for even the small vessels to enter the port and berth there, he said, adding that cargo vessel traffic in the port could be revived once the new wharf under construction was completed and if the channel's draft could be increased to 11 metres as planned by the Port Department.

More In: Kerala | National