The issue of sand mining in the coastal district of Udupi in Karnataka has come to a boil once again after a protest by Maralu Horata Samiti, an organisation campaigning for sand extraction from rivers in the district, entered its fifth day on Monday. The protestors are being backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the five MLAs of the district, who belong to the saffron party, present at the protest site.
The protestors are demanding that 171 persons be given permission to extract sand from Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas in the district. “The state government clarified on October 25 that only those who had sand extraction permits before 2011 can be permitted to extract sand in CRZ areas. Those who obtained permits after 2011, the state government has written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in the Centre seeking a clarification,” she said.
The protestors include those seeking permits to extract sand as well as those associated with the economy of sand extraction including builders, labourers and lorry owners.
The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 had imposed a ban on sand mining in CRZ areas. The CRZ ruling covered sand mining in the six west-flowing rivers in the district - Swarna, Seetha, Papanashini, Varahi, Souparnika, and Yedamavinahole.
After a request by the state government, the notification was amended to allow traditional communities to remove sand in non-mechanised boats using baskets or buckets manually. The amendment was introduced on the grounds that sand deposits in the rivers are causing obstruction to navigation and fishing boats.
The issue has been a point of contention in the coastal district for years. In 2014, the district administration identified a list of traditional fishermen allowed to extract sand in CRZ areas. However, a group of activists led by Uday Suvarna and Suresh Kunder, residents of Baikady, a coastal village, moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2016 complaining that there were too many people holding permits to extract sand in the area. The NGT ruling canceled permits given previously to those extracting sand in CRZ areas.
Following the NGT ruling, Priyanka Mary Francis, Udupi Deputy Commissioner claims that she has repeatedly sought a clarification from both the state government and the Centre on who should be given permits to extract sand in CRZ areas.
In April 2017, Priyanka Mary and Assistant Commissioner Shilpa Nag were attacked when they were conducting a raid on an illegal sand mining block in Kandlur village. While six people were arrested in connection with the raid, 14 were arrested for attacking the officials.
The DC maintains that she has constantly sought a clarification on the issue of handing out permits to extract sand in CRZ areas."We have been seeking an explanation from the MoEF on how to identify the people from traditional communities who should be given permission to extract sand as there were allegations that businessmen were profiting from these licenses. Therefore, we decided to tread carefully while deciding over 171 applicants," Priyanka Mary said.
The district administration's indecisiveness has prompted protestors to take to the streets in protest. Extraction of sand in the coastal areas of Udupi generally begins in the month of August and is carried out till May. A year ago, the district administration lifted the ban on sand extraction and approved a list of applicants who could extract sand in CRZ areas. This time, however, the stand-off has continued till the end of October, leading to rows of sand trucks lining up on the Udupi-Manipal highway on October 23.
Two days later, an indefinite protest began outside the DC Office in Manipal, led by Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat. Protestors set up a make-shift stage and lined up rows of chairs outside the DC office and even carried materials to facilitate overnight stays. “Among the people protesting here, there are also people who have had permits prior to 2011. The District Administration has done a poor job of verifying those extracting sand by traditional methods," he told TNM.
He further alleged that the menace of the 'illegal sand mafia' is at the heart of the issue. “The district administration is making money by transporting illegal sand from Mangaluru. This has put labourers, contractors and builders out of work," he said.
A former license owner, Ashfaq Thonse, who is protesting at the DC office, detailed how he had failed to obtain a permit this year in spite of holding a permit since 2008. “In 2017, after great difficulty, I procured a license after three months. I am a license holder since 2008, but this time, I did not get one at all. There is no answer from anyone at the DC Office,” he said speaking to The Manipal Journal.
The protests intensified after Mohammed Haneef, one of the protestors, died after a cardiac arrest on October 26. Haneef, a resident of Hejmadi in the district, had come back to India from Saudi Arabia around one-and-a half-months ago, seeking employment as a labourer in sand extraction. “Haneef returned to India thinking that extraction work will start soon and he will get employment. But to his disappointment, there was no work,” said Hamza Hejmady, an aide of Haneef speaking to The Manipal Journal.
Photograph Courtesy: Ekta Sinha, The Manipal Journal
The district administration has refused to give in to the demands of the protestors stating that they are following the orders of the state government in waiting for a clarification from MoEF.
The protests have been led by the BJP, which has positioned itself in support of the affected communities. All five MLAs in Udupi district are from the BJP and are currently at the protest site. The Congress, meanwhile, has maintained a studied silence on the issue. Raghupathi's predecessor Pramod Madhwaraj contended that the DC should re-issue permits to those who previously held it.
"When I was the MLA a year ago, we identified 28 blocks in the district and issued permits to 165 persons. There was an embargo that the sand extracted cannot go outside the district since it was being extracted in ecologically sensitive areas. Just like last year, the DC should give permits in all 28 blocks this year," he said speaking to TNM.
He further questioned the clarification issued by the DC. "The condition of giving permits to those who had permits prior to 2011 was not there when I was MLA. I don't know why the condition has been introduced now," he added.
The pressure is mounting on the DC and there appears to be no end to the issue with a fresh protest planned by the BJP on November 3 in all taluk centres in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi The protestors claim that they will continue to demonstrate until the DC permits people to extract sand.