Around 8 pm on Tuesday, Kerala RTI activist Mahesh Vijayan, who is known for calling out illegal sand mining, sensed something was wrong when he saw a few men approaching his house in Kottayam. “I quickly got inside my house and locked it. But soon, armed with weapons such as hockey sticks and iron rods, the gang tried to break open the main door and enter my house. Hearing my wife and mother crying for help, my neighbours rushed to my house. As the neighbours started gathering, they got into KL-05 AU 6003-registered car and fled the scene,” recounted Mahesh on Facebook, about 45 minutes after the incident.
Incidentally, this was the second such attack on Mahesh in three weeks. On January 22, when the activist went to the Kottayam municipality to file an RTI (right to information), seeking information about sand mining in the region, a few men, who were later identified as sand contractors, attacked him. In the video that emerged, a part of Mahesh’s shirt was torn, with injury marks on his head and hand.
In his Facebook post, Mahesh identified one of the men who attempted to barge into his house on Tuesday as KS Ajayan, one of the men accused in the attack case in January.
Confirming Tuesday’s incident to TNM, Gandhi Nagar police station said that an FIR has been registered against Ajayan and three other persons, whose names were withheld by officials. They have been booked under sections 448 (house-trespass), 294(b) (singing, reciting, or uttering any obscene song, ballad or words in or near a public place), 506(2) (criminal intimidation), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50 and upwards) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
After the first attack on January 22, Mahesh had explained that he had called out a financier, Shaji M ’s alleged illegal sand mining in Kottayam’s Vettikuzhy, where an 8-10 meter canal was encroached upon by filling it with sand. He alleged that one of the accused in the case, Abilash is a close associate of Shaji. According to Mahesh, a few days prior to the attack at the municipality office, sand contractor Byju aka Suresh had allegedly threatened him over the phone, stating that he and Shaji would beat him up if he stepped out of the house.
“I deal with illegal sand mining cases directly and indirectly. If residents in the area have any issues regarding illegal sand mining, they approach me. I analyse the documents and draft the complaint for them, although they file it. But these sand contractors realise that I flag these illegal activities,” Mahesh told TNM.
Following the attack on Mahesh on January 22, the police registered an FIR against five persons but were let off the same evening.
The attempted attack on Mahesh comes at a time when the state has been witnessing rampant sand mining, which involves mineral extraction. In fact, the malpractice of extracting minerals along the Western Ghats by quarrying and construction companies has been attributed as one of the reasons behind the landslides during the August 2019 rain in Kerala.
Several residents of Alappad, a coastal village in Kollam district, too, have been up in arms against the decades of mineral beach sand mining. As a result, the coastal shores have been literally vanishing off the map.
Even those who have been raising their opposition against the illegal practice have been facing consequences.
It was on January 26 that 36-year-old Sangeeth was murdered allegedly by sand mafia in the wee hours, in Thiruvananthapuram. He had given the Forest Department and the Kattakad panchayat the permission to use the sand from his compound at Ambalathinkala to build a bridge.
However, on the day of the incident, when Sangeeth rushed to his compound, he realised that the six members there belonged to a sand mafia group. When he resisted the illegal mining and stood in front of the earthmover, the men knocked him down with the arm of the vehicle. Although he was rushed to a hospital, he was declared brought dead.