Sand mining: Authorities maintain deafening silence amid allegations
Udupi: The sand mining issue in Udupi district continues to persist with the recent development of the Udupi District Building and Other Construction Workers’ Joint Action Committee going on an indefinite strike on October 5 at the DC office in Manipal.
Previously, the Gram Panchayat had staged a protest on the morning of September 16 in the Gram Panchayat premises of Varamballi village in the district. Panchayat members, led by the president Nityanand and senior member Rajesh Shetty, demanded more regulation over sand miners in the district. Shetty has also sent a letter, stating his demands to Deputy Commissioner Dr. Vishal R (of which The Manipal Journal holds a copy) to which he hasn’t received a response. The real issue locals have with sand mining is not its legality; rather its fluctuating nature. It is mere negligence on the part of the government towards how it is practiced in the area. Their main agenda was that the administration has failed to take a ”No Objection certificate” from the Gram Panchayat. “It is democratic to take the opinion of the democratically elected Gram Panchayat. They instead, are taking permissions from the Sand Mining Unions,” claims Shetty.
There are other social problems connected with the issue. Shetty claims that over 15 tons of sand is being transported illegally out of the district every day. “People of this district should have the first right to the sand mined. But here itself it is being sold for higher prices,” adds Shetty. The rate of sand, per unit has increased drastically from Rs 3500 to Rs 7500 in one year. The department of mines and Geology uses vehicle monitoring equipment provided by I-search technologies, a company based in Mangalore. But the method hasn’t been proven to be very successful and has shown many discrepancies. Documents provided by I search showed that laws are frequently broken when drivers turn off the equipment. Ravi Kiran, technical head of I-search says, “Lately we have noticed an increasing number of infractions. People switch off the GPS tracker on their vehicle, which is a major infraction. Also, for every trip to extract sand, the vehicles need fresh permits from the Department of Mines and Geology (DMG). Whenever someone tries to extract sand in two trips holding just one permit, we are notified since the permits come with a bar code scanner. All our data is also shared with the police who keep a close watch on the vehicles transporting sand.”
Senior Geologist at the DMG, Kodandaramayya said there are 16 blocks identified as Coastal regulation zones where sand mining takes place. When questioned about the illegal transport of sand, he explained the protocol saying, they will cancel the permits if the defaulters do not come up with an explanation.
The labour associated with sand mining is brought in from states like Assam and Uttar Pradesh. B.R Shetty claims these workers steal jobs of local labourers as they are ready to work for longer hours. He also alleges that they are injected with steroids for the same purpose which is affecting their health. Rules by which a sand mining permit holder has to abide by, clearly state that medical reports of labourers have to be sent in every three months. But when contacted, Satish (Name changed) a permit holder said he wasn’t aware of any such rule and nor had any official asked him before for the reports. There are 220 sand mining permit holders in the district who operate around 1200 vehicles used for transporting sand.
Meanwhile, the communities dependent on the rivers for their livelihoods are heavily affected by the extensive mining. “It has become difficult to judge the depth of the river because of the mining so we are scared to enter the waters to collect shells and fish,” said Vitthal, a resident of a small settlement near river Sita in Brahmavar. According to the rules specified, mining is restricted between June and September. Shaurya Rahul Narlanka, a professor at Manipal Institute of Technology and an expert on river morphology says, “this season is when the fish breed. Mining can reduce fish population in the rivers putting people dependent on it for livelihood in problems. Changing in water chemistry and river morphology can put farmers who are highly dependent on the river water at a great loss.” But despite the restrictions, the mining has continuously been going on across the district in the season.
Despite issues related to sand mining continuing to pile up, a solid plan to regulate it hasn’t come up. The deputy commissioner Dr. Vishal R refused to give any comments on the issue.
Edited by Kavana Desai