Tamil Nadu

Activists welcome order, industry concerned

Residents of Virunjipuram blocked the bull carts staging protest at Kothamangalam sand quarry in Virunjipuram palar river near Vellore   | Photo Credit: V. M Maninathan

The order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court calling a halt to river sand mining has evoked strong reactions — glee among environmentalists and alarm in the construction industry.

“The court order is a boon to us and a big blow to the sand mafia. The government should cooperate with the judiciary to end sand mining permanently,” said A.V. Gopala Desikan, a farmer-activist of Kulithalai in Karur district who has been fighting against sand mining in Cauvery river.

With quarries in Tiruchi-Karur belt remaining closed since August consequent to an interim order passed by the Madurai High Court Bench in another case, only 19 quarries were functioning in the State as on Wednesday, according to sources in the Public Works Department. Of these, sand was loaded to lorries at 11 quarries and on bullock carts in the rest. The output from the quarries was about 4,000 lorry loads (of two units) a day, the sources said. PWD officials estimate that the normal average demand in the State is about 8,000 to 9,000 loads a day, though lorry operators tend to project a much higher figure.

A senior official regretted that “hurdles” were coming up at a time when efforts were on to streamline sand mining. In June, the government created a special mining and monitoring circle in the PWD exclusively to look after sand mining; an online system of booking was launched in July. Efforts were being made to ensure that sand was available to consumers at a reasonable price, he said. “The system was evolving and changes were being brought in to make it transparent and plug leakages. Environmental norms were being adhered to in the newly opened quarries. Closing down, rather than regulating, the quarries may not be the right solution,” said an official, on condition of anonymity.

Builders point out there is a severe shortage already, badly affecting the construction sector across the State. With the prevailing sand shortage, nearly 70-80% of construction activity has already come to a standstill in Chennai and its neighbourhood, and price of sand has shot up. Builders in Coimbatore say the city was getting just about 700 loads of river sand against the requirement of 2,000 to 3,000 loads.

Sella Rajamani, president of Tamil Nadu Sand Lorry Owners’ Federation, said that 85,000 sand lorries in the State will be hit if the quarries were closed. “The federation had submitted several suggestions to check irregularities at the quarries. But, the government did not take any action. It should appeal against the court order. Further, the government should import sand directly and move it through the sand lorries to different parts of the State,” he said.

Import option

Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry senior president S. Rethinavelu, while welcoming the order, said the State government should frame laws which would be transparent, simple and user friendly for import of sand, keeping in mind the need to protect the construction industry.

However, a section of PWD officials and builders feel imported sand may not be a permanent solution to the crisis in the State, raising doubts over the quality and cost factor in the long run as demand goes up.

(With inputs from K. Lakshmi in Chennai, L. Srikrishna in Madurai and M. Soundariya Preetha in Coimbatore)

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 2:19:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/activists-welcome-order-industry-concerned/article21135832.ece

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