Slip­ping sands

Labour­ers il­le­gally mine beach sand in Rat­na­giri, re­mov­ing the buf­fer be­tween ocean and hu­man habi­tat

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - APARNA PALLAVI Rat­na­giri, Ma­ha­rash­tra

Il­le­gal beach sand min­ing in Ma­ha­rash­tra re­duces buf­fer be­tween ocean and hu­man set­tle­ments

At Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Kalba Devi beach in Rat­na­giri district it is dif­fi­cult to tell where the Ara­bian Sea ends and the sand be­gins. At one spot, wad­ing into the waves takes you into an abrupt stag­nant pool of salt wa­ter about thigh deep. At an­other, waves, in­stead of com­ing straight on, flow in from sides into a long, deep trench-like for­ma­tion, like a stream.

Dur­ing the evening high- tide one can only won­der at these strange phe­nom­ena, but at day­break the rea­son be­comes clear. Near the stag­nant pool, now ex­posed due to the low tide, about half a dozen bul­lock carts are parked, with men dig­ging sand and load­ing it.

One of them says he is tak­ing sand to con­struct his house. But within an hour the num­ber of carts dou­bles. All the carts take the same route out of the beach and re­turn sur­pris­ingly fast.

Are so many people in the vil­lage build­ing houses at the same time? “We also sell some,” one of the men ad­mits af­ter some pes­ter­ing. “We have to do some­thing for our stom­achs.”

Beach sand min­ing is the least ac­knowl­edged form of sand min­ing in Ma­ha­rash­tra. Even as all kinds of sand min­ing in the state have been stopped through a ban by the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal ( NGT) on Fe­bru­ary 4, beach sand min­ing continues.

Beach min­ing is dif­fer­ent

Il­le­gal sand min­ing usu­ally brings to mind pic­tures of huge dredgers or suc­tion pumps ex­tract­ing tonnes of sand from the depths of the earth.

How­ever, in Rat­na­giri district, which is fa­mous for mangoes, beach sand min­ing is ex­clu­sively man­ual— car­ried out by labour­ers—which makes it easy to pass off as small scale.

Su­maira Ab­d­u­alali of Mum­baibased non- profit Awaaz Foun­da­tion, which has ob­tained the cur­rent NGT ban in the state, says, “Beach sand min­ing is the least un­der­stood form of sand min­ing, and also the least ad­dressed. It has to be un­der­stood that once beach sand is re­moved, it can­not be re­placed, un­like stream-bed sand. Beaches form a buf­fer be­tween the ocean and hu­man habi­tat, and their re­moval could make hu­man set­tle­ments highly vul­ner­a­ble.”

One of the ma­jor rea­sons beach sand min­ing goes unchecked is that it is usu­ally car­ried out by the poor. “The fact that the poor are in­volved, and that they are do­ing it for liveli­hood makes this min­ing so dif­fi­cult to op­pose,” says Man­ish More, who runs a small home­s­tay on the Kalba Devi beach. “The lo­cal sand mafia has the sup­port of the poor in the vil­lage. As a re­sult, pan­chay­ats can­not take de­ci­sions against min­ing.”

Over 100 of the 400 fam­i­lies in Kalba Devi are in­volved in beach min­ing. “The poor land­less, who were ear­lier sub­sist­ing on labour, are drawn to sand min­ing in a big way,” says Man­ish. Sand min­ing is easy money, he says. A team of two work­ers with one bul­lock cart earns around ` 200 per cart of sand. “As a re­sult, each worker earns be­tween ` 600 and ` 800 by work­ing for four to five hours. In com­par­i­son, labour fetch-

The fact that the poor are in­volved and that they are do­ing it for liveli­hood makes min­ing dif­fi­cult to op­pose

es around ` 150 for 10- 12 hours of work,” he adds.

Man­ish says the sand mafia has helped the poor fam­i­lies ac­quire bul­lock carts with pedigree bulls for min­ing. “Ini­tially, the mafia was us­ing trucks from out­side to trans­port the sand but now there are 12 trucks in the vil­lage it­self, ac­quired with the help of the mafia. Due to these ac­qui­si­tions, the poor are now un­der debt, which makes them des­per­ate for work.” One of the sand dig­gers, re­quest­ing anonymity, says he has taken a loan of ` 1 lakh for buy­ing a cart and a pair of bulls. He, how­ever, re­fused to re­veal who gave him the loan. Sim­i­lar con­di­tions pre­vail in nearby Nevre vil­lage. “Min­ing has been go­ing on for at least seven years, de­spite reg­u­lar pan­chayat in­junc­tions to stop it,” says Ma­jeed Ibrahim Hodekar, a for­mer pan­chayat mem­ber. “The in­volve­ment of the poor is mak­ing things dif­fi­cult,” he ad­mits.

Mafia ter­ror

Kalba Devi res­i­dents have been fight­ing against beach sand min­ing for the past six years— but with lit­tle suc­cess. “We have made sev­eral com­plaints to the district col­lec­tor and the po­lice, and drawn up sev­eral gram sabha res­o­lu­tions op­pos­ing it. But within a month or two of ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion, min­ing starts again,” says farmer Pramod More.

The res­i­dents have also faced vi­o­lence and threats from the lo­cal sand mafia. Some two years ago, co­conut trees in Man­ish’s re­sort were chopped overnight af­ter he op­posed min­ing. “The mafia has also set up a sand col­lec- tion cen­tre on a plot ad­join­ing my re­sort,” he says. On Jan­uary 26 this year, vil­lage res­i­dents had staged a protest against sand min­ing. Fol­low­ing this, the com­pound wall of one of the pro­test­ers was dashed by a sand truck. Within days of the protest, ca­sua­r­ina plan­ta­tions on the vil­lage beach also caught fire, de­stroy­ing hun­dreds of trees. “The tehsil­dar vis­ited the vil­lage af­ter the fire in­ci­dent but min­ing re­sumed a month later,” says Vinod Mayekar, a res­i­dent.

The vil­lage sarpanch, Ji­ten­dra Joshi, de­clined to talk to Down To Earth. Res­i­dents say Joshi has been fight­ing against the mafia, but pan­chayat mem­bers in favour of min­ing have moved a no- con­fi­dence mo­tion against him. “The mat­ter is in court and he has re­ceived death threats,” says Mayekar.

In­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity

In all the vil­lages in Rat­na­giri where min­ing is tak­ing place, people re­port in­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity to high tides dur­ing the mon­soons.

At Mirya Ban­dar vil­lage, which is some 30 km from Kalba Devi, a buf­fer of three-me­tre sand cover is all that stands be­tween the ocean and the first row of houses. A vil­lage res­i­dent says the beach has dis­ap­peared due to ram­pant min­ing for over a decade. “Ev­ery night 40- 45 trucks of sand are trans­ported out of the vil­lage.” The govern­ment has now con­structed a makeshift wall with sand bags along the shore­line. By­standers say con­struc­tion of vil­lage houses is the rea­son be­hind the de­plet­ing beach, which has left them wor­ried. “My house is just six me­tres away from the shore­line. Wa­ter gets into my house ev­ery mon­soon. Kindly ask the govern­ment to raise the height of the wall,” says one of them.

In Kalba Devi, Man­ish More says last year the tides reached the gate of his home- stay, which is 800 me­tres from the shore­line. “Since min­ing started the sea has moved in by 400-500 me­tres,” he adds. In an­other part of the vil­lage, where the Kalba Devi creek joins the Ara­bian Sea, the dis­tance be­tween houses and the shore­line has re­duced to barely 20 me­tres. “This part of the beach saw the heav­i­est min­ing in the early years, but the in­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity forced min­ers to move fur­ther along the beach,” says Mayekar.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion: a silent spec­ta­tor

Rat­na­giri district col­lec­tor B Rad­hakr­ish­nan and district min­ing of­fi­cer B B Salve deny sand min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on the beaches of the district. “We have taken ac­tion on com­plaints of sand min­ing in the creeks, but there are no com­plaints about beaches,” says Salve.

Rat­na­giri tehsil­dar M N Kam­ble who, vil­lagers say, has taken ac­tion on com­plaints of sand min­ing, says the ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning strict ac­tion against the min­ing mafia in the district.

People in­sist the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion is in ca­hoots with the mafia. “All min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties stop one day be­fore a raid. This has been hap­pen­ing for years,” says Pramod.

People also com­plain that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is se­lec­tive in pro­tect­ing beaches. “Beaches like Bhate and Gana­p­atip­ule, where po­lit­i­cal big­wigs like Padam Singh Patil and Manohar Joshi have in­ter­ests in tourism, are well pro­tected, but beaches with small tourism po­ten­tial are be­ing ne­glected,” says Man­ish.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: APARNA PALLAVI / CSE Il­le­gal min­ing at the Kalba Devi beach in Rat­na­giri

MA­HA­RASH­TRA

Rat­na­giri

Beach sand brought in bul­lock carts is loaded onto trucks at an il­le­gal sand collection cen­tre in Kalba Devi vil­lage

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