Delay in Sand Extraction Permits Leads to Continuous Protests
MANIPAL and UDUPI: Rows of chairs, a temporary roof and a make-shift stage lined with requirements for overnight stays: the parking lot of Udupi’s District Commissioner (DC) Office in Manipal resembles a virtual camp, owing to its occupancy by dozens of protesters, all demanding an immediate resolution to legalities surrounding Udupi’s long drawn sand mining hassles. Inside, visitors are greeted with a donation box plastered with the photo of Mohammed Haneef, a participant at the protest who passed away on the evening of October 26, due to cardiac arrest.
Haneef, a resident of the district’s Hejmadi village, came back to India from Saudi Arabia around one and a half months ago, with the thought of employment in the sand mining industry. “Haneef returned to India thinking that mining work will start soon and he will get employment. But to his disappointment, there was no work,” said Hamza Hejmady, an aide of Haneef who was with him during his last moments. His death sparked demands for a compensation of Rs 15 lakh to the family, which Hamza says would help pay off Haneef’s mounting debts due to unemployment.
The crux of the issue relates to the identification of sand blocks in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) and Non-CRZ areas, without which mining of sand for various purposes, primarily for use in the construction sector, cannot go ahead as scheduled. Extraction of sand in the coastal regions of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada generally begins in the month of August and is carried out till May. In 2017, the district administration lifted the ban on sand mining only in September, following which licenses for extraction were approved for 130 applicants in the CRZ areas. This time around, however, the impasse has continued well into the month of October, despite repeated assurances by the State Government, which initially assured to begin the extraction process by October 15.
Failure to meet this deadline led to dozens of trucks involved in sand extraction lining up on the Udupi-Manipal highway on October 23 in protest, and the subsequent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led indefinite protest at the DC Office that began on October 25.
Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat, who vowed to resolve this issue as a campaign promise during the State’s 2018 Assembly elections, has been at the forefront of the current protest. The main point of contention, according to him, is that the district administration is “not ready to settle the issue.” Speaking to The Manipal Journal, he said, “The district administration is unnecessarily delaying the issue of notices for lease. This administration should have prepared everything by August (start of the extraction season) and been ready with the lease to start sand extraction. With the present orders from the Government, sand extraction can be done, but somebody is controlling the DC and making sure it does n0t happen.”
When asked about the menace of illegal sand mafia in pockets of the coastal district, he said, “There is a lot of income (for the administration) in the transport of illegal sand which comes from Mangaluru. The ones who suffer are labourers, contractors, and builders, who are without work.”
The complaints of lack of work are echoed by Jerry Vincent Dias, head of the Udupi Builders Association, another organisation that joined the protests from its inception. “This is the first time in 25 years that I am seeing such a situation,” he commented. “Our labourers are not getting work. It is a serious issue. If construction begins at the earliest, it is in the best interest of everyone,” he added.
Another key demand of the protesters is of the distribution of sand extraction licenses to those who have held it after 2011, and not just for those who have had licenses prior to that year.
Udupi District Deputy Commissioner Priyanka Mary Francis, in her defence, has said that this particular demand is being considered and she has spoken to the protesters. “The government has given us in writing that for now we give permits only to those who have had permits before 2011. For those who have taken permits after 2011, we will take a clarification from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and then we will let them know; until then we start the process of sand removal”, adding that the supply of sand would begin imminently and that “it is in their (protesters’) hands” to resolve the issue.
Back at the protest site, however, former license owner Ashfaq Thonse ridicules such suggestions. “In 2017, after great difficulty, I procured a license after 3 months. I am a license holder since 2008, but this time around, I did not get one at all. There is no answer from anyone at the DC Office,” he said. Arun, a tempo owner and member of the Construction Materials Transport Vehicles Owners and Drivers Association, alleges that this might be part of a larger conspiracy. “This is not the first time we have heard such cases of denying licenses. Previous licence holders giving interviews to the media or taking part in protests have been targeted,” he told.
For now, the indefinite protest led by the BJP has entered its 4th day and is here to stay, according to the participants. The organisers of the October 23 truck protest, for their part, have joined the current agitation and have given the administration a deadline of November 21 to resolve all sand mining related issues. The Udupi District Engineers’ Organisation, Association of Rickshaw Owners and Drivers, and the Udupi Boat Owners’ Association are some of the other organisations that have joined the protest.
Featured Image Courtesy: Ekta Sinha
Edited by: Mehul Malpani