TAMIL NADU

Illegal mining of sand takes its toll on Chettipulam

gross violation: Illegal mining of silica rich sand thrives at Chettipulam village at Vedaranyam. — Photo: B.Velankanni Raj

gross violation: Illegal mining of silica rich sand thrives at Chettipulam village at Vedaranyam. — Photo: B.Velankanni Raj  

Illegal mining of silica-rich sand goes unabated in the interiors of Chettipulam village, allegedly under the gaze of revenue administration, here in Vedaranyam. At least 10 mining sites operate illegally in the village, which is one of the few isolated pockets rich of silica sand. Silica sand falls under the category of rare earth minerals, considered critical for high-end technologies, and its mining is subject to ancillary riders.

However, here in Chettipulam, a 50-cent area of gorged out earth in the backyard of the Panchayat president's house stands testimony to the brazen violation, points out a villager to The Hindu . Persons with clout at the panchayat-level apart from illegally mining the sand, also rent out their earthmovers to transport it.

“While the more powerful carry on with the illegal transport of silica sand in broad day light, the less powerful do it in the dark,” says a source. At Chettipulam, an earthmover stands parked in an inconspicuous location to avert public attention. Attempts at illegal mining a few years ago had faced strong opposition from people of Chettipulam. “In response to our petitions, Department of Mines and Geology inspected the site and confirmed the presence of silica here, and banned the grant of mining permits in the midst of housing colonies,” said one of the petitioners.

According to villagers, the silica-rich sand has blessed the region with clean ground water within a depth of four-feet and mineral rich soil that supports horticultural crops, significantly coconut groves.

Even while movement of ordinary sand from one point to another requires permit, the silica sand gets transported under the garb of ordinary sand for building purposes.

Villages of Thanikottagam, Vadamalai Manakaadu, Vanduvaancheri and Vellikidangu stand testimony to the evils of indiscriminate mining, which had altered their topography, and left vast stretches of mined out earth to resemble farm ponds. “During monsoons, the huge pits created by mining gets filled up with rain water and the hutments perched atop surrounded by pits resemble islands,” says a villager. Indiscriminate mining affects adjoining land strips as they are rendered fallow and eventually had to be sold off for mining.

Under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, a legally mined area should be refilled with sand, after extraction of minerals. “Each time an earthmover carries sand, we alert the revenue authorities who expect us to round up the vehicle,” says a villager.

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