Erode: No licences, but sand miners plunder Bhavani river

BHAVANI (ERODE DIST): The placid Bhavani river shimmers under the morning skies at Servarayanpalayam village near Bhavani town. As the village women trickle in to the weed-ridden banks of Bhavani for a bath, five round, iron boats furiously sway in the waters. Follow the boats, and you realise it’s no innocuous fishing expedition. Wearing a tiny piece of cloth around their loins, the boatmen slip into the water and firmly plant a 20-foot long stick into the river. And then, the plundering of the Bhavani river sand begins, in broad daylight,

No licences or permission have been given by the Erode district administration for mining sand in Bhavani river. Yet these specially-crafted boats ruthlessly ravage the river bed. “We have not given any licences for mining sand in Bhavani river,” concedes a senior revenue official. The men in loin clothes sink deep into the waters and bring out bucketfuls of sand. In the next two hours, the five boats are almost half-full with sand.

Every day, from 6 am to 8 am, these boats raid the Bhavani for its brown sand. After the raid, the boats are parked on the banks and the water is drained from the sands with filters. Then they unload the sand on the river banks and leave. In the evenings, bullock carts or tractor trailers trundle in to collect the mounds of sand.

Normally boats are made of wood or animal hide. But these huge boats, around 15 feet in diameter, have been specially designed to mine sand in the river. “We get Rs 150 for mining a boat full of sand,” says Palaichamy, a local villager.

The morning scene unfolds in almost all villages near Bhavani town. From Servarayanpalayam to Thippichettipalayam, Seethapalayam, Chinnamolapalayam, Jembai and Aapakoodal, illegal sand mining flourishes with support of local villagers. “The powerful sand lobby contribute funds for building village temples and bribe the local leaders too. And when the police stop the mining, they gherao them,” says lawyer Papa Mohan, who had got a court decree against indiscriminate sand mining in Bhavani river bed.

According the Rule 38 (A) of the Tamil Nadu Minor Minerals Concessions rules, 1950, only the district collector is empowered to issue licences for sand mining in river bed. And mining can be done only on a 10-hectare land within the demarcated area as per the sketch clearly provided by the collector. And a plaque should be put up at the mining site giving details of the period of contract. Importantly, sand should not be mined beyond one metre from the existing sand bed level at the time of award of contract. “But powerful local politicians control the sand mining show. And none of these rules are followed in any of the districts,” rues a government geologist.

In Erode, mining goes on unchecked even without issue of licences, at the instance of a powerful district political leader, says a police official. “The moment we arrest the miners, we are pressured to drop the case and release them,” he says on condition of anonymity. And the Bhavani river remains a mute victim of sand mining and the polluting dyeing units that dots its banks.

From TOI

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