A popular hashtag campaign against beach sand mining in Kollam's coastal hamlets is fast gathering steam, thanks to the support from unexpected quarters. Last week, Malayalam actor Tovino Thomas and hundreds of fans of Tamil actor Vijay lent their voices to the campaign, which aims to stop environmental destruction done to the Alappad region through mining.
In 1968, two public limited companies, Indian Rare Earth, which comes under the Centre, and Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited, under the state government, began mining beach sand in the region. According to reports, while a litho map of Alappad village showed 89.5 square kilometre of land in the area, this shrunk to a mere 8 square kilometres of land by 2019.
“For the last few days, I have been seeing a widely shared hashtag campaign 'Save Alappad' on social media,” Tovino said at a Kerala State Youth Commission meet in Kollam on Saturday.
“Perhaps if I talk more about this issue, more people will be aware of this. I do not have the authority to take any action but I would like to bring this to the attention of those who have not heard about the Alappad anti-mining campaign and hopefully bring some change,” Tovino added.
Adding to this statement was the 'Kollam Nanbans Karunagapally Town Committee' - a prominent Vijay fans association in the district, which undertook a protest march to highlight the issue. Waving yellow flags and placards with 'Save Alappad' written on them, the group of both men and women marched through the roads of Kollam town earlier this week.
Meanwhile, 40 kilometres away from the town, aggrieved fisherfolk from the coastal hamlets of Alappad have gathered at a village called as Vellana Thuruthu and are on a relay hunger strike which saw its 68th day on Monday. The 23-kilometre stretch of land between Chavara and Alappad - which lies between the backwaters and the ocean in Kollam - has been vanishing in chunks under the ocean and from the revenue books for years now, thanks to illegal sand mining that has continued for nearly half a century.
"If this strip of land erodes any further and the backwater merges with the beach, this would submerge land and villages all the way until upper Kuttanad. This is highly possible as, in certain areas, the distance between the backwaters and the sea is just 20 metres. More than the pollution caused due to mining, this is a far graver issue that has to be addressed immediately," Kuttan, a protestor from the Alappad region told TNM.
The extensive mining even rendered villages unfit to live in. In Panmana, a village in Kollam, an abandoned temple and heaps of sand are left of what was once a thriving fishing hamlet. In Alappad panchayat, at least 6,000 families have had to evacuate due to beach erosion. A few kilometres away in Chavara, residents have to walk several kilometres to source their drinking water as the mining companies have used open wells in the region to dump their industrial waste.