By C. G. Akhila:
In a democratic country, what is a government expected to do? Serve the people right? But that hardly happens these days. Latest reports show that the priorities of the people of Tamil Nadu differ from those of the government that is supposedly in place to cater to those very needs of the masses that it seems to so flippantly ignore. According to the report, the government performed worst in areas that were top priorities for the people. Instead, what the government seems to be interested in genuinely (despite what the public wanted) is not just an environmental hazard but has also led to various forms of social hazards as well.
Agricultural loan availability, an issue that the general public of Tamil Nadu voted as their primary concern has ranked 27th in the performance index compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms while sand and stone mining that doesn’t even appear as the top 10 priorities of the masses, ranked 9th. The survey that was conducted before May 16, the day scheduled for Legislative Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. It interprets that sand and stone quarrying and mining is an environmental hazard, but people may have supported it due to the employment generated. Sand mining, according to an estimate, directly provides jobs to around two lakh people in the state.
Actively practised since the last two decades in Tamil Nadu, sand and stone mining has been supported by the State government despite being an environmental and social hazard. The boom in the construction industry and significant contribution to the government’s revenue led to the growth of the mining sector. The cover story of Frontline magazine (July 2015 edition) titled Mother of ALL LOOT stated that mining in all forms, involving 36 lakh hectares of land, contributes to 4 percent of the nation’s GDP and provides employment to 1.1 million people. But the loss in terms of asset destruction is higher along with an increase in social tension due to it.
Government’s focus on sand and stone mining sector despite various implications associated with it is quite perplexing. According to an article published in ‘Frontline’ magazine named ‘Mining Dangers’ on May 2002, Palar basin which is the most exploited of the river basins in the state comes up as the biggest example. Because of its proximity to Chennai, it caters to the ever increasing sand needs of builders in and around the city. Mining has made irrigation practices and availability of drinking water most difficult. In some places, houses are found to have developed cracks and people in the region are exposed to lung-related diseases because of the dust emanating from the sand-laden lorries.
Another worst hit area is the Thamiparani river, with its banks eroded as a result of illegal sand mining. A state level ‘public hearing’ was arranged in Chennai on 19th and 20th February 2002 by Tamil Nadu on the impact of sand mining. A deposition made by one of the 28 victims across the state was the destruction of 1 lakh coconut trees along the Thamiparani river basin that could have brought a regular income to the growers for about 100 years. It resulted in the loss of livelihood to 50,000 people leading to the migration of agricultural labor in certain areas for about 3-4 months. This was followed by the increase in school dropout rates, rise in the number of child workers and human rights violations against agitators.
Various courts have issued notice to the state government seeing the hazards related to it. The Division Bench of the High Court, in its order of July 14, 1999, had directed the state government to take certain measures to preserve the river systems while granting licences for sand quarrying. The government was directed to ban the removal or extraction of sand from such rivers where its level was below the required level fixed by the government. But still it goes unhindered and illegally because the miners have generated support by a percentage of local people by doing certain favours to them. They lure the locals into their web by offering money to poor in their marriages, temple festivals and whenever needed. The goons, in turn, take care of silencing any voice of dissent against the mining activities.
The irony is the Government’s reluctance to shift its focus from stone and sand mining to voter preferred areas of development. It shows government’s apathy towards the people’s preferences which is unfortunate. The government does not have the conviction and courage to face this challenge. Putting an end to the madness of construction and exposing and punishing those who patronise the mafias only can solve the issue. The government needs to be strictest to these mafias and they need to take care of the employment demands of the local people so that they are not lured by the mafia’s job offers. Political parties have to realise that they not only have to make government but also do governance ‘for the people’.