(Pictures Courtesy: SaveAlappad FB account)
Kerala’s Alappad residents claim their village could be consumed by the sea thanks to beach sand mining by the Indian Rare Earths Limited
In five years between 2013 and 2018, the Chavara mineral division of the Indian Rare Earth Limited’s (IREL) division has mined and produced about 2.4 lakh tonnes of heavy minerals and the buyers of the mined products include private buyers, according to a disclosure made by the company to The Lede.
|Year||Minerals Produced||Sale of minerals|
|2013-14||40,000 tonnes||Rs 65 crore|
|2014-15||38,900 tonnes||Rs 35 crore|
|2015-16||31,700 tonnes||Rs 65 crore|
|2016-17||73,000 tonnes||Rs 100 crore|
|Total||2.4 lakh tonnes||Rs 265 crore|
(*Source: RTI response from IREL to The Lede)
In an RTI response obtained by The Lede, the Chavara Mineral division has admitted that they do sell their mined produce – heavy minerals or rare earth minerals ilmenite, rutile, zircon and sillimanite – to private buyers, but they refused to divulge details as to who these buyers were.
The RTI reply adds that AK Pal, the general manager at IREL who has signed the document, stated that the organisation did not find the queries about private buyers to be in “any larger public interest” warranting the disclosure of information.
The RTI response arrived days before the Union Ministry of Mines banned private companies from mining beach sand. The Lede had earlier reported on the change in policy.
But IREL is a Central government entity and beach sand mining continues in the wake of a relay protest organised by the residents of Alappad. The residents’ protest on the ground has been popularised in social media under the hashtag #SaveAlappad in an effort to protect their land.
Video credit: Midhun Drona and Sudeesh Sudhakaran
“We are not surprised by the answer (RTI response not divulging details of the private buyers). They have been doing the same for decades. If we ask them, then they say, mined products are used for the defence sector and the details cannot be revealed. However we doubt that. We know that there are some private players looting national resources. Definitely there is an unholy nexus,” said Kartik Sasi, one of the protesters.
“In the name of supporting and promoting the public sector, they are looting us, destroying our land and forcing us to leave our land where we were born and brought up,” he added.
According to Kartik, during the past few decades, thousands have lost their land and have left Alappad.
“In the total 7 square kilometre area in Alappad Panchayat, there are at least 25,000 people living. Our lives are at stake. Soon our village will be wiped out. When tsunami hit the Kerala coast, our village suffered the maximum number of casualties,” Kartik said. He added that on 26 December 2004, when the tsunami waves hit the 590 km long Kerala coast, out of the 170 who died, 130 were from Alappad.
A comparison of lithographic maps prepared in 1955 and 2017 reveals that Alappad, a coastal village sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and Trivandrum-Shoranur Canal (TS-Canal) in southern Kerala, has shrunk to around 7 square km from 88 square km.
According to villagers, indiscriminate mining in the sea and hinterland since 1965 by two state-run companies, Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL) and Kerala Mineral and Metals Limited (KMML) are the prime reason behind the loss of land.
“A few decades ago, there were many houses, places of worship, leisure spots and playgrounds even beyond the shoreline to the west where a sea wall exists now. However, now, the land erosion has wiped out most of them,” Kartik said adding that the local authorities had built high stone walls a few years ago to keep the waves at bay, but the walls gave way in many parts by the relentless impact of the waves.
For the last 121 days, the #SaveAlappad protesters are on a relay hunger strike in a temporary makeshift structure erected near the Alappad village office.
“It is either to die when a killer wave hits our home or flee the land leaving everything (before that happens). So, we need the government to stop the mining,” Kartik added.
According to activists, beach washing, a mining process, has resulted in the alarmingly high level of erosion of coastline in Alappad Panchayat.
Beach washing is the process of collecting loads of sand from the coasts where there is considerably high wave action.
“We have asked the companies to stop beach washing, but they are not complying. The mining company Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) has repeatedly violated the rules while IREL has stopped Beach washing for a short period of time only to start again,” an activist alleged.
Activists say beach washed sand is collected by the companies but these spots are never refilled.
This has continued for over five decades and finally resulted in Alappad losing 90% of its land to sea, according to the protesting residents.
The IREL Version
In an email response to The Lede’s queries on this front, IREL refuted claims of villagers that beach sand mining was the cause of erosion of Alappad.
“The allegation that extensive mining by IREL has led to severe coastal erosion is not true,” said IREL. “The rest of the coastline i.e. around 16 km of Alappadu Village is totally protected by sea wall constructed by the Government of Kerala more than 50 years ago. The contention that the mining by IREL has resulted in coastal erosion is therefore denied. In the sea wash collection area, as an added protective measure, IREL is also constructing a groyne field consisting of four groynes at a cost of around Rs. 6 crores. The groynes are designed by IIT Madras, a premier scientific institution and construction work is being executed by Irrigation Department, Government of Kerala as depository work. Even in the case of inland mining, care is taken to ensure that the area mined out is properly filled up and topography of the area is adequately restored,” it said.
The firm explained that they carry out beach sand mining using a few different methods. Sea washing is a process by which beach sand is mined from the surface – similar to skimming off the top of the sand.
Beach washing is the process of collecting heavy loads of sand at places of high tide action.
The IREL also uses inland dredging to mine beach sand.
“Sea wash collection is being done at the southernmost end of Alappadu Village in a stretch of only around 500 meter length where sea wall is kept open for the purpose,” said the IREL response. “The sea wash collection (a replenishable source) is being carried out based on the scientific study done by NCESS (National Centre for Earth Science Studies), Thiruvananthapuram, on sand accretion and budgeting. Based on the study report by NCESS, the Mining Plan for collecting beach wash mineral sand per annum has been duly approved by IBM (Indian Bureau of Mines) and AMD (Atomic Mineral Directorate). In the view of the same, sea wash collection by IREL does not cause any threat to livelihood or environment as stated. On the other hand it is a source of livelihood for the local inhabitants.”
Terming calls for a ban on beach sand mining by IREL “unreasonable and retrograde”, the firm also stated that “misconceptions” amongst protesters would be cleared up soon. “Government of Kerala has temporarily suspended the beach washing collection by IREL till submission of a report by NCESS on sand budgeting. The State Government has also formed a monitoring committee under the chairmanship of District Collector Kollam to monitor these activities to eradicate the misconceptions.”