"This is a planned murder. The sub inspector has gotten my husband killed. They (police) killed him and haven't even turned up here?" cries 27-year-old Margaret outside her residence in Tirunelveli district. "I am five months pregnant," she adds, breaking down.
This young woman is the widow of 33-year-old Jagadeesan, a constable who was attached to the special branch at Vijayanagaram police station in Tirunelveli.
He was found dead at Parappadi on Monday morning, near the Nambi river bank. Jagadeesan had gone with a team of five policemen to gather intelligence on illegal sand mining. And while the others made it out unscathed, Jagadeesan who has a reputation of being an honest and upright officer was murdered, allegedly by the sand mafia.
He was found with grievous injuries to his face and a hammer like weapon near him. Following this, the police have arrested three men involved in illegal mining in the area. But social activists and former top cops have questioned the role of the district police in the death of the constable.
Babus and cops controlled by mafia
"It is completely possible that the police were involved," says a former top cop who served in the district. The officer who had helped tackle the sand mafia in the region adds, "Without the connivance of the police, revenue and mining departments it is not possible for the illegal activities to continue. Right from the Tahsildar to the DSP and local constables, they must all be getting paid by the mafia there," he adds.
According to the IPS rank officer, political and police will is necessary to crack down on illegal mining.
"If fear of retribution is created, the issue can be handled. However, not many people stand up for the right cause. When you see top officials and colleagues of the same rank indulging in malpractices, you tend to join in. This officer would have tried to do something for the good of the people has been murdered for it," he explains.
Not the first life lost
And while Jagadeesan is the first police officer in recent past to lose his life for taking on the sand mafia, several locals and bureaucrats have been attacked in the past.
In 2012, a 21-year old student of an industrial training institute, who was part of a patrol team to deter sand mining in Mittaadhaarkulam village, was crushed to death by a sand-laden tipper lorry near Thisaiyanvilai in the district.
Satish Kumar was attempting to stop the illegal sand miners from escaping when they ran the vehicle over him, even as his father was approaching from a distance. This led to protests on Valliyor-Tiruchendur main road, but the illegal activities allegedly did not stop.
In 2013, suspected illegal sand miners in a lorry ran over a 4-year-old boy and then assaulted Nanguneri Tahsildar M.G.Saravanan.
Paid the price for honesty?
"The police have done nothing through all this to make the situation better," says Shekar, a social activist who has been fighting illegal mining for 17 years in the district now. "And when one officer wants to do something good, he is threatened or in this case, murdered," he adds.
According to the activist who has been holding agitations in the district, the arrests in Jagadeesan's case are merely an eyewash. The Madras High Court on Tuesday announced that those who are found complicit in sand smuggling should be booked under the Goondas Act.
The court stated that without the help of government officials, sand smuggling would not be possible and that the Chief Secretary should take disciplinary action against government authorities found complicit in sand smuggling.
"Even if they are booked under the Goondas act, it will have little effect on the ongoing activities. There is not enough agriculture or industry in this region, so the local villagers are all employed in sand mining. They are given bullock carts to pick up the sand which they then deposit in one area. Lorries then collect the sand from there," he adds.
Then what is the solution?
"There needs to be a taluk wise supervisory committee headed by panchayat members, tahsildars and locals who want to put an end to this crime," says Shekhar. "Even now, there is a committee at the district level but they hardly meet, let alone discuss this raging issue," he adds.