Farmers and the locals of the Cauvery Delta districts have accused the ruling DMK government of being indifferent to the indiscriminate mining of sand in the river basin.
Despite court orders and multiple reports confirming the illegal activity, sand is being mined to 20-30 feet deep against the permitted limit of three feet in the region, which was declared a protected agricultural zone in February 2020.
Despite the unabated mining of sand affecting the groundwater level, increasing salinity and impacting agriculture, the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India (CREDAI) has demanded more sand quarries.
PROTESTING SAND LOOT
More than 2,000 residents and farmers participated in a protest held under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanding an end to the illegal sand mining in the Kollidam River, the northern distributary of the Cauvery River, in front of the Mayiladuthurai district collector’s office on May 5.
T Srinivasan, secretary, CPI(M), Mayiladuthurai, told Newsclick that there are “two quarries in the Kollidam River right next to the waterbody on the banks, which is illegal”. “They plunder 30-to-35 times the permitted limit for sand mining. This is dangerous. Water salinity is increasing day by day as the more they dig, the more saltwater mixes with freshwater. That water cannot be used for agriculture and drinking. Moreover, the river would become a marshland.”
According to Srinivasan, the Kollidam river contributes drinking water to around 2.5 crore people in Mayiladuthurai, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram districts. “Despite the evident sand loot, local DMK members blatantly lie terming it as desilting. They also assert that desilting is necessary to prevent floods,” he added.
Moreover, sand is being allegedly sold at Rs 10,000-Rs 11,000 per unit in the black market against the government rate of Rs 1,000 per unit.
S. Janakarajan, a retired faculty member of the Madras Institute of Development Studies and an expert in water management said, “Sand, which takes a lot of time to deposit, is very important because it stores water and forms the riverbed aquifer. Even if the river is dry, the aquifer will hold water that can be accessed.”
Depending upon the quantity of sand, Janakarajan said, it can be “mined to the extent the aquifer is untouched. The Pallar River had a very rich aquifer but we lost it”. On the other hand, “regular desilting is necessary to maintain the velocity of the river flow from upstream to downstream. The gradual decline and gravity of flow have to be maintained. If extreme desilting is done in some places, water will be stuck and obstruct flow”.
In the name of desilting, “sand is being mined illegally. This is both bad for the river and the local area. The aquifer will dry up. In many places, the clay is visible after which the water will not flow. It should have never reached this point”, Janakarajan added.
NOT FALLING FOR THREATS
Srinivasan alleged that agents are threatening people who oppose the miners. “They say, ‘You will not be able to roam free.’ They are abusing us on social media. We have submitted three memorandums to respective authorities. The police have said that their hands are tied.”
Before coming to power, the DMK demanded that the Cauvery Delta be declared a protected agriculture zone. Just ahead of the 2020 Assembly elections, AIADMK chief minister (CM) Edappadi K Palanisamy categorised the eight Cauvery Delta districts into a special protected agricultural zone.
At the first meeting of the Tamil Nadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Authority on May 12, CM MK Stalin made big promises saying that the government will not allow any industry that will affect the agricultural activities in the Cauvery Delta. “This government will remain focussed on protecting the interests of farmers and agriculture and to create more employment opportunities in agriculture-related industries,” he added. However, the reality is vastly different.
The CPIM(M) reiterated that Stalin should make an announcement in the state Assembly banning illegal sand mining. The party will hold its next protest at the quarries if its demand is not met.