Despite an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to prevent illegal mining of sand, unbridled extraction of sand continues on the banks of the Thenpennaiar river in Soriyankuppam and surrounding villages in Puducherry, resulting in serious environmental degradation and systematic destruction of the groundwater aquifers in the region.
The Thenpennaiar river is the main source of irrigation for a large extent of lands in the north-western districts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. At Soriyankuppam, the river divides the limits of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu.
The NGT in 2015 had directed the Puducherry Government to take all measures to prevent illegal transportation and quarrying of sand in the river, and to establish two check-posts for monitoring the transportation of sand.
“Though illegal sand extraction was stopped for a brief period, it was now taking place regularly while the authorities were keeping mum. The illegal sand extractors had dug up the riverbed for as deep as 20 ft. The illegal extraction not only has a negative effect on ground water recharge but has also led to the erosion of the river banks and wreaked havoc on the aquatic life forms and their habitat,” said V. Chandrasekhar, president, Bangaru Vaickal Neeradhara Kootamaippu.
The two check-posts at Thookupalam and Periyar Nagar, set up on the directions of the NGT to check sand mafia, remains unmanned. The check-posts have remained non-operational for a long time and the sand mafia has been having a free run. One of the check-posts is now used as a cattle shed while a fruit stall has encroached upon the other, he added.
“The river sand is stored in bags, not exceeding 50 kg, and subsequently transported on two-wheelers to different destinations through the two check-posts,” says Ramalingam, a farmer.
The Mining and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (MMRDA) clearly stipulates that illegal miners and transporters should be imprisoned for a period of two years with a fine of ₹25,000. However, not a single person has been fined so far, say environmentalists.
A senior official said revenue inspectors had been instructed to keep vigil against sand mining in the region. “We have also dug up cattle trenches on the way leading to the river bed for preventing the entry of vehicles. However, people have been entering the areas surrounding the river belt and mining sand at night. Sand extraction is viewed as a source of revenue generation for a few families. We will be intensifying the raids to curb the activity,” he said.