Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sand extraction poses threat to rural ecology

The Hindu: Kerala: Thursday, August 10, 2017.
Residents in the rural reaches of Thengeli-Kolabhagom in Thiruvalla taluk are a distressed lot. Indiscriminate sand extraction from this environmentally fragile floodplain area of the Manimala river over the past five years has polluted their wells, besides forming large and dangerous waterlogged pits near their houses.
The sand extraction, using heavy pumping system and sieves, continues unabated despite protests by a people’s forum (Janakeeya Samiti), says samiti leader E.K. Mony, alias Bennichan.
Despite repeated pleas against underground sand extraction from the residential area, the Mining and Geology Department and various other government agencies have permitted the practice, alleges Mr. Mony.
He said the forum had got ample proof, through the RTI Act, to expose the official-land lobby nexus that led to granting of permission for the environmentally destructive activity.
He alleged that the Environment Clearance (EC) given by the district-level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) for sand extraction from the plains was a testimony to the anti-environment and anti-people attitude of the agency.
The latest Environment Clearance signed on February 1 by the Adoor Revenue Divisional Officer, who is also the DEIAA Member Secretary, states that “clearance has been given for quarrying ordinary sand from 26.75 ares of land in Kuttoor village in Thiruvalla taluk,” subject to certain conditions and that too after conducting a site inspection by himself and the Geologist.
The conditions say that “top soil of one metre shall be kept at the site itself for refilling and restoration purpose” and “the maximum pit size shall not exceed 2.2 metres (1-m top layer plus 1.2 m sandy layer).” The DEIAA further fixes the total quantity of sand to be extracted at 3,037 metric tonne.
Using pump sets
Mr. Mony alleged that the sand lobby had extracted huge quantities of ordinary sand from underground, using pump sets. The authorities had failed to monitor the sand extraction, he alleged.
Mr. Mony said the land lobby obtained clearance stating that they wanted to replace the sand with fertile soil for farming purpose. Ironically, the officials who inspected the site had conveniently ‘missed’ the vegetable farm bordering the plot. The adjoining farm had even won the best farm award of the panchayat, he said.
The indiscriminate sand extraction had converted the otherwise fertile land into a large lake, he said. Local residents fear that the extraction of sand using heavy pump sets might have squeezed the underground sand from beneath their residential buildings too.
The forum leader alleged that the memorandum submitted to the district authorities too appeared to have fell on deaf ears.