Huge trenches have been dug almost every 100 metres on the banks of River Cauvery in Pugalur, a small village 20 km from Karur city in Tamil Nadu, to prevent two-wheelers or bullock carts from entering the river. The villagers have dug these trenches on their own as they allege that government officials turn a blind eye to rampant sand mining despite the Madras High Court suspending such activities along the river in Tiruchirapalli and Karur districts.
Miners pack the high-quality sand in sacks and take them away in two-wheelers besides the old method of packing a load full of sand on a bullock cart.
“While those in the business come up with new ideas to plunder the natural resources, the government unfortunately is a mute spectator,” N Viswanathan, coordinator of Cauvery River Protection Group, told DH.
S Vijayan of the nearby Thavittupalayam village says, “We dig the trenches whenever we see traces of two-wheelers or bullock carts on the river banks. But it is not of much use because they find an alternate way to enter the river and smuggle sand,” he said.
The sand that is taken from the river is dumped at a point from where it is transported to other parts of Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, mainly Bengaluru. One unit of sand (100 cubic feet of sand) is sold anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh, the activists allege.
About 60% of the state’s sand requirement is met by the quarries in the basins of the Cauvery and its tributaries like Amaravathi and Coleroon. Extensive sand mining is happening in Pugalur, Kulithalai in Karur district and in Coleroon in Tiruchirapalli district for decades.
The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had asked the Public Works Department (PWD) to suspend mining along Cauvery and Coleroon rivers, but people in Pugalur village allege that nothing has stopped. Rampant sand mining starts from Karur district and goes on till Tiruchirapalli.
“Sand mining won’t stop as long as the officials are complicit with those involved in the business. We have been fighting for the past six years against sand mining
in the Cauvery, but nothing has moved in the right direction so far. Sand mining is rampant even today despite a clear order from the High Court to suspend operations,” Viswanathan, a software engineer, said.
Also, this DH correspondent saw how sand mining was affecting structures built across the Cauvery.
Beneath the bridge constructed near Pugalur, there is visible sand erosion which could pose a major threat to the structures in the long run.
Rampant sand quarrying not just leads to erosion of soil in the river but also brings down the level of groundwater table.
“Unregulated extraction of sand from the river erodes the riverbed leading to the weakening of structures like bridges which are built across the river,” A Veerappan, former special chief engineer, Tamil Nadu Public Works Department, told DH.
He explained that when the river receives water after a dry spell and if there is not enough sand in the water body, it leads to erosion.
“This is what happened in Coleroon last year when a 100-year-old bridge collapsed in Tiruchirapalli as the river received excess water released from the Mettur dam,” Veerappan said.
He says though Manufactured sand (M-Sand) is now available in many districts of Tamil Nadu, politicians allow illegal sand quarries to make profits. “If there is a will to stop sand mining, it can be stopped,” Veerappan said.
P R Pandian, president, Coordination Committee of All Farmers’ Associations of Tamil Nadu, says farmers are the worst-affected due to the depletion of groundwater table as they can’t be dependent on the river water perennially. “It is quite sad that politicians have allowed tonnes and tonnes of sand from the Cauvery without realising that it affects the farmers. We unnecessarily waste much of the water that we get from Karnataka after a huge struggle,” he said.
Wrong policies of the government and the lack of proper rules for industries that have come up on the banks of the Cauvery have led to the exploitation of natural resources and affected the river’s health.