Kerala’s capital city has been witnessing an unusual protest by a young woman and her three little children, against the sand smugglers of the district of Kannur. Jazeera and her daughters, Riswana (12) and Shifana (10), and little son Mohammed are at it with gusto, braving rain, so that the illegal mining of beach sand on the Pazhayangadi shoreline, where she ran around as a child, would end.

Jazeera could meet and plead with the Chief Minister, but she has refused to give up till she receives a written undertaking that the authorities would clamp down. There is no sign that her battle is about to succeed.

Kerala has had a construction boom over the last two decades. Its flip side has been the razing of hills, indiscriminate mining of sand from rivers and beaches, even garden lands and paddy fields. The Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act of 2001 has not served to check illegal mining given the collusion between the gangs, the local officialdom and political players. Local-level resistance by individuals has failed. Evidently, if the authorities could check the illegality, that would have happened long ago.

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In Tamil Nadu, people’s struggles against sand mining from the Cauvery and Coleroon rivers began in the1980s and still continue.

Over two decades, villages in Karur and Tiruchi district have resisted excessive or illegal mining. In the late 1980s, residents of Kattalai Renganathapuram in Karur district put up a spirited fight.

“It was the time people started realising the dangers of indiscriminate sand mining as the groundwater table receded, threatening livelihoods.” recalls R. Karikalan, an activist of Neervalam Mattrum Vazhvathara Padhukappu Koottamaippu (Federation for Water Resources and Livelihood Protection) from Renganathapuram.

A series of protest actions by rural women organised under the banner of the Society of Women in Action for Total Empowerment (SWATE), local communities and voluntary organisations kept up the pressure. Successive governments did not pay heed. Cases were slapped against agitators, who also faced threats and harassment from contractors.

Local communities are still fighting and have filed appeals before the National Green Tribunal.