Irregularities abound in lifting of alluvial soil from tanks

Marauded for money: Kalkulam tank near Vellakal, one of the many tanks in Madurai district which have witnessed over-exploitation in the name of lifting of alluvial soil under kudimaramath scheme.

Marauded for money: Kalkulam tank near Vellakal, one of the many tanks in Madurai district which have witnessed over-exploitation in the name of lifting of alluvial soil under kudimaramath scheme.   | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy


Real beneficiaries have benefited only to a limited extent and commercial exploitation of soil is rampant, say villagers across Madurai district

Last year, the Tamil Nadu government announced a special scheme with the lofty goal of desilting waterbodies, while at the same time allowing farmers and potters to benefit in the process by lifting alluvial soil at a minimal cost.

A year on, the scheme appears to have benefited the farmers and the potters only to a limited extent. But the scheme has facilitated commercial exploitation of soil from the waterbodies in Madurai district.

The monthly farmers’ grievance day meetings at the Collectorate are often swamped with complaints from farmers about rampant irregularities in implementation of the scheme.

As per the scheme, farmers are allowed to take 75 cubic metres (or 25 tractor loads) of soil once in two years for an acre of wetland they own, 90 cubic metres of soil per acre of dry land, and potters can take up to 60 cubic metres. The beneficiaries have to pay ₹35.20 per cubic metre to the government as loading charge for the earthmoving equipment. The farmers can apply to the respective Tahsildars with relevant revenue documents for permission to lift soil from the waterbodies that are identified by Public Works department or Rural Development department.

However, farmers point to issues ranging from lifting of soil far beyond the permissible extent, misuse of permissions granted to the farmers by others with commercial interests and delay (or denial) in providing permission to farmers who need alluvial soil.

A visit by The Hindu to a few tanks confirmed over-exploitation of soil for commercial purposes. At Kalkulam tank near Vellakkal, the soil has been removed so deep that the level has gone well below the tank’s outflow sluice, in contravention of conditions mentioned in the scheme. “Now, even if there is a decent amount of water in the tank, it cannot be used for irrigation since the water cannot flow through the sluice,” said M. Thiagarajan of Tirupparankundran, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) functionary.

Though revenue officials said licence for taking soil had been cancelled for the tank after complaints, Mr. Thiagarajan alleged that removal of soil continued at night.

Similar is the case with the roughly 350-acre Thenkal kanmoi, a place under consideration for erecting Tamilannai statue, as proposed by the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. This tank is also witnessing rampant exploitation in the name of removal of alluvial soil under kudimaramath scheme. “Digging deeper in different places results in accidental drowning of people when the tank gets water,” he said.

S. Azhagu Servai, a farmer, said the same thing happened in Panaiyur tank where some people had dug up to over 30 feet. “Action was taken after I reported the issue to the Collector. However, by then, the damage had been done,” he said.

The farmers said the real target for the lifters was a form of subsoil, chukka soil in local parlance, which is generally used for levelling the ground.

“A lorry-load of chukka soil is sold for ₹2,000- ₹3,000. This is in high demand in places where agricultural land is converted to housing plots,” said M. Tirupathi, a farmer from Kulamangalam. He said that while only tractors are permitted for lifting of alluvial soil as per the scheme and officials were expected to be present to monitor it, people deployed lorries and earth movers to lift the chukka soil. “For alluvial soil, the government allows digging only up to three feet. However, in most places, people dig for tens of feet for the chukka soil,” he added.

Stating that the issue was rampant in Boothakudi, Kurunakulam, and Keezha Panangadi tanks, he said that repeated complaints to revenue officials were in vain. “Officials are very much aware of these violations,” he alleged.

“On the other hand, a group of farmers from my village are requesting for lifting alluvial soil from Kulamangalam and Vadugapatti tanks. But we are not given permission,” he added.

Acknowledging that there were issues in implementation, a senior official from the district administration said the farmers were, however, exaggerating the extent of the problem.

“Stringent conditions are enforced when the Mines department issues licence for lifting sand. However, in the kudimaramath scheme, the conditions are not stringent and there is a lack of monitoring mechanism,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 4:55:52 PM |

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