Protest Against Illegal Sand Mining in Tamil Nadu Rivers

January 13, 2017

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On January 9, about 450 people coordinated by Swaraj India, including representatives of 18 movements, and comprising farmers, women, Periyarists, Dalit leaders, and environmentalists, came together to protest sand mining in the rivers of Tamil Nadu. After the protest, a petition was given to The District Collector, Karur.

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Following is content of the Handout.

Stop permanently Sand mining
Protect Tamilnadu Rivers
Declare Tamilnadu as Drought hit State
Save Farmers, save Farming
Mass Protest
09.01.2017 – Thanthondrimalai, Karur
The rivers in Tamil Nadu have been subjected to illegal sand mining continuously for the past 27 years starting from 1989. This has not stopped even after filing various petitions, court cases and democratic struggles by various civil society organizations. On the other hand, environmental activists striving to protect water and mineral resources are targeted and subjected to attacks. Water and other livelihood factors, which are fundaments for the future generations are in acute danger. Sand mining in Tamil Nadu is clear example of environmental violence imposed on the people of Tamil Nadu by the power structures.
Mining by private Contractors:

From 1989 to 2003, sand mining in Tamil Nadu was undertaken by the private contractors through obtaining government licenses. After continued complaints and petitions filed by the people, Chennai High Court ordered Government of Tamil Nadu to set up a High Level Committee to study the problem and submit the reports. The same was presented before the High Court in 2003.
Report of the High Level Committee:

The report of the High level committee noted that these licensed private miners function as mafias and emphasized the need to protect the rivers and resources from these private mafias. Also the report recommended the sand mining activity shall be carried out by one or two departments of the state government adhering to the concerning rules and legislation strictly. Following the report, sand mining licenses of the private miners were cancelled and the entire responsibility was given to the Public Works Department.

 

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Sand Mining under Public Works Department:

From 2003 to till date, the Public Works Department has only been a namesake entity failing to manage and regulate sand mining in Tamil Nadu. Illegal sand mining network has only grown in magnitude into a strong mafia with the brokers, commission agents, government officials, politicians and political parties all playing their part.
Rules and Violations:

According to the regulations, Sand from the river basin should be mined only in places where Sand dunes have formed and even that only to an extent of 3 feet. If mining has exceeded 3 feet the remaining sand should be deposited in the same place. (But 20 feet of Sand has been mined illegally on an average). Also sand has to be dug in only by human effort, and the use of Heavy trucks and machines is strictly prohibited from mining sand.

Mining river sand is also prohibited in areas near springs, water bodies commonly used by local people, bridges, river banks and places of ecological importance. All these regulations are only in paper and in practice these regulations are not adhered to by the miners.
Looted river of Tamil Nadu:

Rivers in Tamil Nadu have continuously been looted for the past 27 years staring from 1989. Kollidam river in Ariyalur district, Kaveri, Amaravthi and Bhavani rivers in Karur, Namakkal, Erode and Trichy districts, Gundar River in Virudhunagar district, Vaigai, Thamirabharani and Nambiar river in Sivagangai, Thoothukudi and Thirunelveli districts, Thenpennai river in Dharmapuri district, Pennai river and Malataru in Cuddalore and Villupuram district, Cheyyar in Thiruvanamalai and Vellore district, Palar and Kosathalai rivers in Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur district have all been exploited. Several other small rivers and ponds across Tamil Nadu have been exploited and several crore metric tones of sand have been looted and still being looted in Tamil Nadu.
People’s Movements against Sand Mining:

Since 1990 people’s movements have been voicing out against illegal sand mining through continuous democratic struggles including complaints, petitions, protests and public interest litigations. But all these struggles to protect sand and rivers were in vain. On the other hand the protesting women movements, farmer’s organization, Environmental movements, straight forward government officials and activist have been attacked. Protestors faced with life threats, their belongings and properties have been damaged, false cases have been filed and some people have even been killed. But the illegal mining hasn’t stopped and the people associated continue to acquire wealth exploiting resources which is essentially the peoples.
Politicians, their associates and money hoarding:

From the recent Income Tax department’s raids in top businessmen like Sekar Reddy, Srinivas Reddy, Dindigul Rathinam, Puthukottai Ramachanran and the raids in the then Chief Secretary Rammohana Rao’s office and residence exposed many scams and lakhs of crores of rupees in cash and other important documents were ceased. These were covered in all media. The documents exposes that majority of the ceased money was acquired through illegal sand mining. If few above mentioned people have so much wealth from illegal mining, one can imagine the magnitude of the scam and the amount of money that is been made.
Conclusion:

Rivers of Tamil Nadu have been a motherly source of livelihood for its people. And the people have always been dependent on her for their growth, development and sustainability. By today, this source of livelihood is being exploited to the maximum extent to satisfy the greed of politicians and businessmen. These rivers today are mostly seen barren, rocky or with clayish sand unsuitable to take in any more water in them.

Also the ground water levels are depleting rapidly due to the pressure exerted. In this background it is absolutely essential for us to unite, protect and safeguard our water resources so that adequate water is available for drinking and irrigational needs of the state and its people and to the generations to come.
The existing regulation, permitting to mine 3 feet depth has been clearly violated in all of the rivers and up to 20 feet of sand has been excavated on an average, this could be even more. This means that within 27 years, 6 times more quantity had been mined. What should have been excavated and mined in 162 years have already been done in the last 27 years in our rivers. As a result of this people of Tamil Nadu especially the farmers are already facing a serious water shortage for irrigation.

It takes 500 years for sand to form by natural process. It is our sole responsibility to reclaim our lost resources and rights over land, water and environment. We demand that sand mining in rivers is completely prohibited and stopped. And we the people of Tami Nadu shall not allow it anymore.
Tamil Nadu – Drought Hit:

Natural resources, especially water bodies in the state have been ravaged. In addition it is observed that after 1876, the state is facing a severe drought situation during the year 2016.

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As per the records and reports of the Indian Meteorological Department, this year both the North-East monsoon and South-West monsoons were 80 per cent below average. National Disaster Management’s drought manual defines severe drought as such where annual rainfall is deficient by 25-40% of average rainfall. This explains how grave the situation is with a rainfall deficiency of close to 80%.

Swaraj Abhiyan, parent organization of Swaraj India (Party) filed a Public Interest Litigation with the Supreme Court of India, for the Government’s inaction in the 13 drought hit states. Following the petition the Supreme Court issued a series of steps to be taken immediately and guidelines to be followed by the Government in drought hit states.

On 1st August 2016, during the Supreme Court hearing, Advocate Prashanth Bhushan presented a list of district with rainfall less than 75% between September 1st. This list also includes 15 districts from Tamil Nadu which fall under the category. As a result of this, on 14th October 2016Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, issued circulars to the respective state government departments to distribute drought relief materials immediately.

Farmers Suicide:

Any of the above mentioned relief works were not undertaken in Tamil Nadu so far. Hence, in the past three months more than 80 farmers have lost their lives by committing suicide or by shock seeing their crops dying without water. Taking moral responsibility for the death of the farmers, the Government of Tamil Nadu should act swiftly in distributing relief so another farmer’s life is not lost.

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Demands:

 Government of India should declare the state of Tamil Nadu drought hit. Government of Tamil Nadu should urge the center to speed up the declaration and implementation process.
 A relief of Rs. 30,000/- per acre for crop damage for cultivated land and Rs. 15,000/- per acre for lands which could not be cultivated due to lack of water should be paid as compensation.

 Employment under National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes should be extended from providing employment for 100 days to 150 days. And under the scheme, all the members of the family above 18 years of age should be provided employment.

 Rupees 15 lakh should be paid as immediate relief to the family of Farmers who have commited suicide or died due to shock.

 The state and central government should write off all loans by farmers in Cooperative Banks, Nationalised Banks, and Private sector Banks immediately.

 Prohibition orders should be issued to stop sand mining in all rivers in Tamil Nadu immediately and permanently.

 A committee shall be appointed by the Environmental ministry to study the status of rivers in Tamil Nadu and present a White Paper. This committee should have adequate representation of IAS officers of the government, ecological scientist, environmental activists, and representatives of farmer community. This committee shall study illegal sand mining by the sand mafias over the years and its impact on ecology, environment, water bodies, farming pattern and livelihood of the people. This committee shall also study the revenue loss to the government and illegal wealth accumulated by illegal sand mining. And should be completed within due time frame.