Illegal sand mining rampant in Palar basin
CHENNAI, October 10, 2013

Sandmining has been going on unabated in the Palar river for several decades and the river is on the verge of dying. Infact, the villagers say that there is no water in this river for close to 15 years. Several years back in 2007, farmers had protested about illegal sandmining to the then collector Mr. Dharmendra Pratap Yadav, however, nothing came out of it. After that there have been many sporadic protests and no action has been taken. The increase in construction activity has resulted in the sand being sent to chennai but also as far as bangalore. Depending upon the size of the lorry, the sand is sold at between 7500 to 15000 per truckload. So sandmining has become a lucrative business and it has attracted organised mafia and political patronage.

Recently a case was filed by the lorry owners association. A single judge ordered a CBI enquiry. So the Tamil Nadu Government filed a counter appeal against it saying that the original petitioners had not asked for CBI appeal, so the judge ordering CBI enquiry is illegal. Based on this argument, a division bench stayed the CBI enquiry part of the order.

Illegal sand mining is happening in broad daylight in the river basins of Palar and Cheyyar, according to a fact-finding team of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The team presented to media on Wednesday the video and photographic evidence, showing heavy and persistent movement of several tractors transporting sand in broad daylight in Pazhayaseevaram (Palar basin), hundreds of people loading sand, mining to a depth of up to nine feet and mounds of sand in private quarries.

According to PUCL, the videos and photos shown to media were recorded on August 24 and 25, and the team corroborated their evidence, interviewed district officials, including the Kancheepuram District Collector, and got official responses before presenting interim report to the media. They said that at the mining sites at Pazhayaseevaram, Pazhaveri and Pinayur alone, thousands of men and women with shovels are working round the clock during the day to fill as many lorry loads as possible.

Though the permits issued by the Kancheepuram Collector for the Palar river basin – covering Pazhayaseeveram, Pinayur and Pazhaveri – was only up to 50 hectares, the illegal sand mining operation across huge tracts of Palar river basin could extend up to 200 hectares. The team estimated the monetary losses due to illegal mining for the period between April 2009 and July 2013 to be Rs. 5,875 crore. (This has been calculated for an estimated volume of 665 lakh cubic metres or 235 lakh units of 100 cubic feet at the prevailing market value of sand at rate of Rs. 2,500/ unit)

B. Gunaseelan, a resident of Pazhayaseeveram village, said the villagers had been complaining continuously to the district and revenue officials for the past four years. “We must have sent close to 100 representations to various government departments. But we have not even received a single reply so far.”

The PUCL has called for an immediate ban on river sand quarrying not just in the Palar and Cheyyar basins but across the State till such a time a transparent system is in place for the activity. They have also called for a CBI probe into the issue.