Thiruvananthapuram: The state government continues to view the Alappad agitators with suspicion. Industries Minister E P Jayarajan, who had even earlier ridiculed the anti-mining agitators, used harsher words against them in the Assembly on Tuesday, and hinted that locals in Alappad were facilitating the smuggling of mineral sand from Alappad. The anti-mining agitation will enter the 100th day on February 8.
“There are people who use the locals to collect mineral sand, stock it, and then in the cover of darkness will smuggle it out in lorries and boats,” Jayarajan said while respondig to an adjournment motion moved in the Assembly on the issue on Tuesday. “The agitation will stop only if the smuggling comes to an end,” he said, reflecting the government's hardened stance. The minister ruled out any immediate talks with the agitators but said he may visit Alappad to take stock of the situation.
Jayarajan reiterated the earlier charge that the agitators were being influenced by outside forces. “During the meeting I had held with the agitators on January 17, it looked like they were convinced about the government stand. They did not say that they will not accept the government's proposals,” the minister said. “But once they went out they came under the sway of external forces and then they spoke against the government,” Jayarajan said.
In protest against what was termed the minister's “insensitive attitude” towards the strikers, the opposition staged a walkout. Jayarajan stuck to the government's earlier stand that the coastal erosion was mostly the result of the tsunami in 2004. Further, he ruled out a ban on mining activities as demanded by the agitators.
The biggest charge raised by Congress MLA P T Thomas, who moved the adjournment motion, was that over 3600 families in Alappad had their lands and houses taken away without their knowledge. “Almost 180 hectares were taken over without seeking permission from the owners by drawing up a deed agreement in the name of the Kerala Governor,” Thomas said. The minister refuted the charge. “It is not possible to acquire such a large swathe of land without anyone's permission,” he said, and threw a poser at the opposition: “If anyone person in Alappad had come to you with a complaint that their land had been taken over without permission, please let me know.” The opposition did not respond.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the report of the Assembly Committee on Environment chaired by CPI member Mullakkara Ratnakaran had said that mining had caused serious environmental issues in Alappad. The committee had specifically said that sea washing should be stopped for six months in a year. He said the committee had also said that areas that had been mined should be refilled and returned to its owners. This also was not being done, he said.
In fact, after the January 17 meeting the industries minister held with the agitators, a one-month ban on sea washing was clamped in Alappad. An expert committee led by Centre for Earth Sciences (CESS) scientist B N Prakash was asked to do a study on the impact of sea washing in the area. Though the report has not yet been submitted, the minister was heard supporting sea washing in the Assembly on Tuesday.
Apart from the temporary ban, the meeting had decided to direct Indian Rare Earths and Kerala Metals and Minerals Limited to refill the areas they have excavated so that these patches could be converted into vegetable gardens or plantations. This was an acknowledgement that the companies were not adhering to the lease conditions.