In India, sand mining is rampant and becoming a major environmental issue.
The Supreme Court has banned indiscriminate sand mining, but powerful mining groups continue mining and violate the rules.
In the southern state of Kerala, a local woman fought a lonely battle against the sand mafia.
She’s 30-year-old Jazeera Vadakan ... who now stays in a small tent at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar street with her three children.
For the last two months, she’s been here on a sit-in protest seeking ban on sand-mining in her home state.
“It is destroying our lives. It is taking away from us the surroundings we grew up with. Our beaches are vanishing, we are losing our land and sources of drinking water and our future is in grave danger if it doesn’t stop immediately.”
Jazeera began her protest from her home town for almost three years.
“I enquired about it and I was told that it was all illegal. I approached the police, the district collector and even higher authorities, they assured me that they will take appropriate action but nothing happened. Then I came to know that it was a big racket. Sand mining was happening all over the state and the police, the government officials and politicians were all involved. It was after this that I decided to do something to expose the nexus.”
Sand mining has been an issue in some other Indian states as well.
But in Kerala, it has reached alarming levels says activist Reshmi Bhastere.
“Two rivers in Kerala are almost now destroyed, either there is no water at all or the water table has gone down. Because as you are digging down the mine, the hydraulic cycle is getting affected. And it is on the basis of the hydraulic cycle the entire region gets water. I can say this is happening in all rivers of Kerala. And second one is the agricultural activity which is actually reduced a lot but whatever is left is going to be affected.”
Kerala’s construction industry has witnessed a big boom in recent years.
With a massive demand for building materials, particularly the sand, the industry is largely responsible for the current mining drive.
India has laws to protect beaches and rivers, but Reshmi says they’re not being implemented thanks to some highly powerful sand mining mafia.
“They are very influential with the local administration and police department. Revenue department and sales tax department are all involved in this, even the political and religious groups are also involved. Every body gets a share, so they are like controlling the region.”
The mining groups employ local residents and operate through them.
It has become the main source of income for many and they see any resistance to mining as an assault on their livelihood.
When Jazeerah started her protest, the opposition first came from her inner circle.
“The entire community was very angry. The women used to come to my protest site and humiliate me. They would say why are you on the street? Does it suit a Muslim woman to be out on the street like this? You have lost all your shame.”
The local government is also upset with her continuing protest.
Addor Prakash is a minister in Kerala government.
“She is just blowing it out of proportion. We have taken action on her complaint. We had sought a report from the concerned department, it was received and whatever was necessary was done. What she is doing now is totally unnecessary and some political groups are supporting all this.”
Jazeera has now taken her protest to the capital.
And her protest has also brought a renewed focus on sand mining and other environmental issues says Souman from Delhi University.
“It is an environmental issue that concerns the whole country. She is a courageous woman fighting for it and I think it the duty of the entire society to stand by her and take on this fight.”
But many say legal measures alone can’t solve the problem.
Sunandan, a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing societies, says it’s also important to look for alternatives to replace sand as a building material.
“There have been many attempts by different groups to develop alternative building materials and different kind of structures for houses. This should be promoted. But even the government itself is using large scale of concrete in their buildings. So there is not enough awareness about the alternatives and there’s not enough study on how to develop such alternative neither is there any government investment in that kind of study.
Jazeera wants the Central government to intervene and put pressure on the Kerala government to crackdown on the sand mafia.
She is determined to continue her protest until concrete steps are taken to stop sand mining.
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