Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder and actor-politician Kamal Haasan took to social media to hit out at the DMK MLA.

Senthil Balaji addressing people during a campaign rally
news 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly Election Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 10:56

A statement made by Aravakurichi MLA Senthil Balaji supporting river sand-mining has triggered a controversy in poll-bound Tamil Nadu. In a video that is going viral during an election campaign rally, the DMK MLA is heard saying, “I will tell the poll promises. DMK will not stop people from mining sand in bullock carts. Once MK Stalin takes oath as the Chief Minister at 11 am, you all can take your bullock cart to the river at 11.05 am. No one will stop you. If the officials stop you, then call me. I’ll ensure that they aren’t there anymore.”

In 2008, the sand mining leases for river Cauvery and its tributary was given to the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department. However, there are private players who illegally mine sand and plunder the banks of the Cauvery river. The well-established illegal sand mining business in Tamil Nadu has been documented in the past. In 2017, a report submitted to the Madras High Court had pointed out that illicit mining and transportation of beach sand continued on a massive scale despite a ban since 2013.

Read: Sand mining mafia has made the banks of the Cauvery River a no-reporting zone

The statement from MLA Senthil Balaji, who shifted from AIADMK to DMK, has come at a time when the Election Commission of India has brought the state under the Model Code of Conduct for the upcoming elections.

Reacting to Senthil’s remarks, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder Kamal Haasan took to social media and said, “DMK candidate Senthil Balaji is saying that they will allow sand mining within the next minute of winning the elections. However, our Perundurai candidate Nandakumar went to court and argued against sand mining. He was attacked by goons for it but still he is in the field working for the people.”

“This is the difference between Kazhagam and Makkal Needhi Maiam,” he added.

Soon, Congress MP Jothimani, who was with Senthil Balaji while he made the statement, accused Kamal Haasan of twisting the original statement. She said, “AIADMK’s Transport Minister Vijayabaskar is allowing sand mining to happen day and night in the banks of Cauvery. Several hundred lorries are carrying sand and they are permitting only the carts of AIADMK members. The people are also paying Rs 5000 for the cart. Is it wrong to question that?” 

“You are talking as though there is no sand mining in Karur and why are you making such a statement and supporting AIADMK? Is it righteous to twist a person’s statement? You should apologise for this,” she said in reply to Kamal Haasan on social media. 

Speaking to reporters over his comments, Senthil Balaji said, “In nearby districts, they are allowing sand to be taken in bullock carts. But in our district, many people's livelihoods are dependent on these bullock carts. But they are not allowed to take sand in bullock carts here. So if there is a ban, it should be done across the state. And if it is permitted, it should be permitted in all districts.”
 
Questioning why permission for bullock carts is prohibited, he alleged, “It is because of AIADMK MLA here. He has an M-sand quarry. The court has said that action must be taken on the petition filed by bullock cart owners. No action has been taken yet.”
 
He went on to say that his demand is that Karur district must give permission to allow bullock carts to take sand and said the stealing of sand must be stopped. 
 
Responding to MNM chief Kamal Haasan’s remarks, the DMK MLA said, “Kamal Haasan must know what he is talking about before he tells an opinion. Tell the candidates of BJP, AIADMK and MNM to tell that they won't allow sand mining here. I dare them to say that they won't regulate this. Our decision is that DMK govt will come and permission will be given to take sand in bullock carts legally which is already allowed in other districts.”

DMK MLA Senthil Balaji is set to contest against Transport Minister Vijayabaskar from Karur. Voting for the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls will take place on April 6 and the results will be announced on May 2.

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