Local political leadership hand in glove with sand mafia
The developments at the Valapattanam police station on October 31 following the arrest of two persons in connection with sand smuggling and the subsequent custody of a local Congress functionary that led to a three-hour protest sit-in by Congress workers at the station have turned the spotlight on the alleged nexus between political workers and people involved in illegal extraction and sale of sand.
The protest by Congress workers, led by K. Sudhakaran, MP, and joined by MLAs K.M. Shaji and A.P. Abdullakutty, alleging brutal assault by sub-inspector B.K. Siju on local Congress leader Kallikkodan Ragesh has shed light on the links between local political activists and groups involved in illegal sand-mining and sale. The police officers who acted against such elements under the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act, 2001, are at the receiving end of the wrath of lawmakers.
The events began when Mr. Ragesh, a Congress worker loyal to Mr. Sudhakaran, went to the station following the arrest of two persons involved in smuggling sand. A local party worker’s visit to the police station to question the capture of the two men involved in sand smuggling and the subsequent protest have raised eyebrows even among UDF circles here. The incidents point to a dark underbelly of political vested interests here.
‘‘Sand smuggling has grown into an industry now as it is very difficult for ordinary people to get sand for construction works,’’ Mr. Sudhakaran said at a press conference here on Friday, blaming the government for the situation. The lawmaker said he had staged the protest not for the release of any sand smuggler but against the brutal manhandling of one of his loyal followers.
Though the developments at the police station are under investigation by Inspector General of Police (Kannur range) Jose George, highly placed police sources here said the MP’s protest at the station demanding action against the SI is enough to demoralise the force. The Act has empowered the police to act against people engaged in indiscriminate and uncontrolled removal of sand from rivers, which causes destruction of the biophysical environmental system of the river. Sand smuggling is a cognizable offence. Intervention of political activists to question arrests in cognizable offences does not bode well for law enforcement agencies, they said.
Mr. Shaji, IUML leader and MLA representing the Azhikode constituency, who was also at the press conference, said Mr. Siju was a ‘notorious’ police officer and that before the developments at Valapattanam he himself had urged Ministers including Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan to transfer the SI. He also categorically demanded that the SI be removed from the Valapattanam station.
Legal circles here observe that the demand for removal of the police officer for earning the wrath of the political class is untenable as the Kerala Police Act 2011 stipulates two-year minimum tenure for police officers.
Section 97 of the Act ensures a minimum tenure for police officers from the State Police Chief to the station house officer. The clause for minimum tenure has been included as per the Supreme Court’s guideline to avert political intervention, they said. Shifting of any police officer before the completion of the minimum tenure should be on the grounds of disciplinary action, involvement in corrupt practice or criminal offence, physical or mental incapability, evaluation of superior officers that he or she is not discharging the duties sufficiently, public dissatisfaction about his or her efficiency, and the officer’s own request for transfer and not on the ground of displeasure of the political leadership.