Thiruvananthapuram: Industries minister E P Jayarajan might be of the opinion that it was the 2004 tsunami that devastated Alappad, and not the mineral sand mining. But the Assembly Committee on Environment thinks otherwise.
“Thanks to unbridled mining, Alappad panchayat is now less than even 100 metres wide in certain areas,” the committee said in its report tabled in the Assembly on February 2, 2018. “The village, sandwiched between Arabian Sea and T S Canal, was once seven kilometres long and at least a kilometre wide,” it added.
The nine-member bipartisan committee, chaired by CPI MLA Mullakkara Ratnakaran, laid the blame squarely on thoughtless mining. “Mining activities have stripped the coastal village's capacity to withstand sea erosion. If tsunami decimated the village, it was because the natural mud mounds so common in Alappad were lost to unscientific mining practices,” the report said.
The committee, after collecting evidence from local inhabitants and revenue officials, concluded that it could not be disputed that Alappad had lost 80 sq km of area after mining had begun. “Along with the vanished areas were gone wetlands, wells and other water sources that fed Alappad,” the report said. Many had lost their livelihoods, and over 5,000 people have already left the place.
Central PSU India Rare Earths Limited and the state-owned Kerala Metals and Minerals Ltd have been carrying out mining activities at over 160 hectares spread over Vellanathuruth village in Alappad panchayat and Ponmana and Ayanivelikkulanagara villages in Panmana panchayat for many decades. They have permission to continue mining till 2020.
Though the LDF government now seems suspicious, the Assembly committee found many of the concerns raised by local inhabitants to be true. For instance, the Centre has prohibited constructions of any kind in coastal regulation zones. The committee but came across a large godown of KMML in the prohibited area.
The committee also noticed certain authoritarian tendencies in the running of the mining companies. A temple and a school had been relocated by the company without the knowledge of the local people. “All this shows that there is basis for the complaints raised by the people in the area,” the report said.
There are many restorative measures that the companies have not even taken up. When they were granted the nod to mine the area, it was mandated that the excavated area should be divided into separate grids and transformed into green zones. This has still not been done. Also, the companies were supposed to plant mangroves along the fringes of water bodies in the area. “Not only has Alappad lost its natural mangrove forests, the casuarina (kattadi) trees planted to prevent sea intrusion too has been lost,” the report observed.
The companies were also asked to refill the excavated areas and bring them to the same level as non-excavated patches. Government officials themselves have testified before the committee members that refilling had not been done. The mining operations look so callous that some of the villagers are yet to be compensated for the land taken away from them for mining. The report termed as “naked violation of mining rules” the presence of dark viscous paste-like garbage along the Alappad coast.
The committee had also called for a six-month break in between sea wash mining activities, or the excavation of minerals deposited on the beach by the sea waves. Nonetheless, sea wash mining continues unabated. IRE officials state that the mining plan for collecting beach wash mineral sand per annum has been approved by Indian Bureau of Mines and Atomic Mineral Directorate. The company also stated that the sea wash collection was being done only at a small portion while the rest of the area had sea wall protection.
Triumph of local resistance
“When we met the company officials in 2017 to know the reason for this massive shrinkage of land mass in Alappad, we did not get any clear answers,” said Mullakkara Ratnakaran. Reason why the committee recommended a study by an expert group to analyse the exact cause of the Alappad phenomenon.
The committee's remarks also serve as a rebuke to those who said that the protests were a recent phenomenon. “The IRE's decision to construct IIT Chennai-designed groynes (structures to prevent sea erosion along shores) in stretches where erosion is extreme is the triumph of the public agitation against the activities of the company," the report noted.