TAMIL NADU

Illegal sand mining in Thenpennaiar river continues unabated

Violation unchecked: Tokens issued for bullock carts are used to illegally transport sand from the river bed mostly after dusk in Villupuram district.Shaju John

Violation unchecked: Tokens issued for bullock carts are used to illegally transport sand from the river bed mostly after dusk in Villupuram district.Shaju John  

‘Over 1,000 loads being mined along the riverbed and smuggled, and officials had no control over it’

It was once a vast sheet of water and a major source of irrigation and recharge of sub-soil water in Thirukovilur in Villupuram district.

But now there are only huge craters, vegetation and a narrow strip of water that flows silently, a sad evidence of the uncontrolled plundering of sand by the mafia in the Thenpennaiar riverbed.

The irony is that while the Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu government to stop sand quarrying within six months, the pace of mining has intensified over the last few weeks, virtually sounding the death knell for the river.

Though the PWD (Mining and Monitoring Division) claims that only a limited number of passes are issued every day for trucks to lift sand, tokens issued for bullock cart owners are used to illegally transport sand from the riverbed, mostly after dusk.

Hundreds of trucks waiting for days to load the sand on the dried-up riverbed are a common sight in the region. Several bullock carts can also been seen transporting sand through temporary roads cut through the riverbed at Athiyur Thirakai and Vadakku Nemeli near Thirukovilur in the district.

A. Akilan, president of Karikala Chozan Pasumai Meetpu Padai, alleged that it was near impossible to carry out illegal sand mining with such impunity without the connivance of PWD (Mining and Monitoring Division) officials and that the plunder of natural resources has several ramifications.

Depleting water table

Sand is mined for 50 to 70 feet in several areas, particularly in Sithathur Thirukai and Vadakku Nemeli.

Mining has been undertaken on the entire riverbed for extended stretches. The groundwater level in the surrounding villages has already depleted. Water that was earlier available at 100 feet has gone below 400 feet in several villages.

Mr. Akilan alleged that more than 1,000 loads of sand on an average were being mined and smuggled to Chennai and neighbouring districts. A unit of sand costs Rs. 540, which includes tax and loading charges. While two units are permitted per lorry, sand miners load up to four units.

The rate for a lorry load ranges between Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,500 and for bullock carts it is Rs. 1,700 to Rs. 2,000. The officials have no control over illicit mining, he said.

A senior official said that around 350 loads of sand were permitted daily at government quarries in Athiyur Thirakai and Vadakku Nemeli.

The district task force committee meets regularly and flying squads have been asked to submit reports from time to time after conducting inspections and raids at the sites where sand mining was taking place.

It is near impossible to carry out illegal sand mining with such impunity without the connivance of the PWD officials

A. Akilan,

President of Karikala Chozan

Pasumai Meetpu Padai

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