After a brief lull, quarrying of river sand commenced in five places on Monday, taking the total number of re-opened sand quarries to 12.
On Wednesday last, seven quarries resumed operations. Of the 12 functioning quarries, five are on the Coleroon river (two each in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam districts and one in Ariyalur); five on the Cauvery (four in Karur and one in Tiruchi) and two on the Gundar (both in Virudhunagar), according to officials of the Public Works Department (PWD).
Some more are likely to be opened in a few days, including one or two in Vellore district. In a week, nearly 20 quarries are expected to be in action to ease the acute demand for river sand. The demand is estimated to be approximately 6,000 truckloads a day for the central and southern regions of the State. On an average, Chennai needs 5,000 loads every day, the officials say.
A week ago, the operations of 24 quarries all over the State, most of which are in the central districts, came to an end following the “sudden pull out” by contractors engaged in sand loading. Ever since the Madras High Court in September ordered seizure of illegally-stocked sand quantities in a couple of places in Kancheepuram district, the sector of river sand quarrying has been under the public scanner. Last month, the government suspended the Kancheepuram district Collector and some officials. It had also constituted a special team to assess the functioning of river sand quarries all over the State. A few weeks ago, the Kancheepuram district administration decided to suspend quarrying for one year.
The PWD, which is planning to ensure early re-commencement of operations of 18 quarries (once the northeast monsoon comes to an end), is pursuing with several district Collectors for setting up 13 new quarries, approved by the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). Most of the proposed quarries are in the central parts of the State. In addition, applications for opening 23 more in districts such as Cuddalore and Krishnagiri are pending with the SEIAA.
Meanwhile, the Kancheepuram authorities are making preparations for Tuesday’s auction of around 40,000 lorryloads of river sand, found to be illegally stored in Pazhayaseevaram. The base price for a lorryload of sand (2 units) has been fixed at Rs.600.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL) Chennai and surrounding districts’ chapter and the Tamil Nadu State Sand Lorry Owner’s Federation urged the government not to go ahead with the auction. While the PUCL wanted a comprehensive set of measures taken by the government, the Federation appealed to the authorities to sell the seized sand to its members. The PUCL wanted the government to bring out a White Paper on the status of river sand mining and the impact on the rivers and local communities concerned in the last 10 years.
( With inputs from L. Renganathan in Karur and V. Venkatasubramanian in Kancheepuram )