Sand mining on Palar riverbed undermining agriculture

Sorry state:Bullock carts carrying sand scooped from the Palar river (seen behind) also blocking the road in Kavasambattu village, near Vellore on Tuesday.— Photo: D. Gopalakrishnan  

The indiscriminate and continuous quarrying of sand from the Palar river bed in Kavasambattu village in Katpadi taluk for the last seven years has resulted in the drying up of agricultural wells and domestic wells and the consequent decline in agriculture in the village.

A visit to the Palar river bed in Kavasambattu, about 20 km from Vellore, revealed the presence of a large number of bullock carts, with the cart men busy scooping sand and loading it into their vehicles. Though it is an official quarry run by the Public Works Department, with the cart men paying Rs.60 per load of sand, the fact lies that bullock carts were allowed to carry sand only for the last one to two years, while previously sand was being quarried with the help of excavator machines, popularly known as ‘Poclain' machines, which resulted in the virtual plundering of sand from the Palar.

Only after considering representations from the farmers, the government banned the use of excavators for quarrying sand, and permitted only bullock carts for the purpose.

“As far as our village is concerned, the damage has been done,” said K. Velmurugan, a farmer of Kavasambattu and activist of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. Though bullock carts are being used to quarry the sand, the continuous quarrying of sand at the same site in Kavasambattu has resulted in the depletion of the groundwater in the agricultural wells and borewells in the vicinity, with the result that farmers are unable to carry on any agricultural activities. It is high time the government shifted the quarry to another site, he said.

Devan, ward member of Kavasambattu village panchayat, said that the indiscriminate quarrying of sand in the Palar river at Kavasambattu has affected the Combined Drinking Water Supply Scheme which supplies water to 20 villages including Kavasambattu. Till two years ago, about 500 lorries were frequenting the riverbed in Kavasambattu to carry sand. After the ban on the use of excavators, about 250 bullock carts were taking sand from the river bed daily for the last two years.

Alagunambi, a farmer of Kavasambattu, said that the groundwater table has gone down steeply in the agricultural borewells in the village. “While previously, we used to get water at a depth of 30 feet, now it is difficult to get water yield, however deep you may dig, because of the plundering of sand in the river,” he said.

Sand facilitates water retention in the river, and unless sand quarrying in Kavasambattu is stopped, it is not possible to recharge the water aquifers. Several farmers have already dismantled their agricultural pumpsets on account of the non-availability of water. Our sugarcane and banana crops have withered owing to the absence of irrigation, he said.

Jayaraman, another farmer, said that the c

“About 10 years ago, we had sufficient water in our domestic and agricultural wells. But today, we do not have water in both types of wells. We have to dig to a depth of 600 feet to get water yield,” he said.

Another farmer said that he dug four borewells up to a depth of 300 feet in his field in the village six months ago, but all the sources failed to yield water. Another farmer said that he could not get water even up to a depth of 900 feet.

Kesavan, a farmer of nearby Eraivankadu village said that the agricultural prospects in his village too were very bleak on account of the non-availability of water.

Mr. Velmurugan said that given the fact that sand legally taken in bullock carts is illegally shifted to lorries and smuggled to places like Chennai and other places to meet the demands of the construction industry, it is high time the Centre and State governments encouraged the use of ‘manufactured sand,' which is being used in the construction industry in Kerala, and also encouraged serious research to find an alternative to sand in order to save agriculture. Official quarries should be monitored in order to ensure that they do not violate the government rules for quarrying of sand, he said.

When asked about the problems expressed by farmers, Ajay Yadav, Collector of Vellore, told The Hindu that he had received several representations against the indiscriminate quarrying of sand in Vellore district. He said that there is a rule which prevents quarrying of sand within a radius of 500 metres from infiltration wells. One quarry in Walajapet taluk where the rule was violated was closed recently.

“I will enquire into the status of quarrying in Kavasambattu and take suitable action,” he said.