The United Democratic Front (UDF) leadership has found itself swamped by the revival of an old controversy pertaining to mineral sand-mining in the coastal panchayats of Alappuzha district.
The sudden political heat generated by the debate on mineral sand-mining has now prompted the UDF leadership in the district to reiterate its opposition to the activity in the area.
The old controversy returned in a new form when trade union leaders cutting across political affiliations lined up before the Secretariat demanding measures to save a private company involved in mineral sand-mining.
Media reports also highlighted the large-scale illegal sand-mining in the coastal panchayats, leading to huge loss to the State exchequer. Smuggling of mineral sand has been reported from panchayats such as Thrikkunnapuzha and Arattupuzha from time to time, leading to demands for tapping the high value mineral resources.
The presence of frontline trade union leaders in the Secretariat agitation in favour of the private company served well in leading to speculation whether a move was afoot to allow private players in the mineral sand-mining industry, especially in value-addition units.
In contrast, government-owned companies such as Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd. were running huge loss, leading to the allegations that the government was not interested in promoting them.
The State had earlier witnessed agitations against mineral sand-mining, especially in 2004 when the mineral sand sector, till then under a regulatory regime, was opened up to the private sector.
It is clear that the UDF leadership had not anticipated the outbreak of the controversy, since it had not made any official moves related to mineral sand-mining.
The UDF Alappuzha committee strongly opposed moves to resume mineral sand-mining in the private sector. According to senior UDF leaders, the ongoing debate was unnecessary since the State government had not changed its mineral sand-mining policy, with its thrust on public sector undertakings. UDF leaders are of the opinion that the controversy is likely to be kept alive till election time.
In Kochi, Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan said mineral sand-mining should be restricted to the public sector to prevent the plunder of natural resources.