The Thottappally pozhi (sandbar at sea mouth) and its vicinity in Purakkad grama panchayat are witnessing a beehive of activities nowadays.
The place is filled with the noise of around 25 excavators engaged in lifting heaps of mineral-rich sand and loading it into trucks lined up. The sand is then transported to Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd.’s (KMML) unit at Chavara. The entire activity is taking place under tight police protection. “Around 100 loads are transported every day,” says, a person entrusted with supervising the work.
Rewind to May 22, when around 550 trees close to the pozhi were axed. According to the government, the trees were chopped to widen and deepen the mouth of the pozhi to ensure the smooth flow of water from Kuttanad through the Thottappally Spillway to sea. In no time, the KMML, which has signed an agreement with the Irrigation Department, started removing the sandbar and the place where the trees once stood. Besides, deepening of the channel downstream of the spillway is planned, for which a dredger has already been brought in. According to officials, the KMML has been given permission to extract two lakh cubic m of sand from the pozhi. The KMML will pay ₹465 per cubic m.
The move has, however, not gone down well with the local people especially the fishermen community, opened another chapter in the anti-beach-sand mining movement in the State. Residents who are up in arms say they are not against the breaking of pozhi, which is an annual process to ensure the flow of floodwaters into the sea. However, they fear the government nod for large-scale extraction of black sand in the name of flood mitigation measures is intended at extending the mineral sand mining in the region.
Coastal erosion feared
Fishermen say it will lead to livelihood, health, and environmental issues. “The coastline is prone to severe coastal erosion. Several years of mining at Thottappally harbour, which came to a halt last year, has only aggravated the situation. Several people have already been displaced after their houses were wiped off due to sea erosion. Sand mining, without conducting a study, will be detrimental to people living along the shorelines from Valiazheekal to Punnapra,” says Johnson K., a fisherman.
Saji Jayamohan, secretary, Green Roots Nature Conservation Forum says the widening of the pozhi will result in the intrusion of saltwater into Kuttanad during high tide. “To ensure the flow of water from Kuttanad, the government should deepen the leading channel (upstream) of the spillway in an effective manner. There is an urgency to remove mineral sand from the pozhi, but dredging of the leading channel is making slow progress. It is all about the money,” Mr. Jayamohan says.
The Irrigation Department last month awarded the work to dredge the 11-km-long leading channel to a contractor.
The opening of the new mining site will force olive ridley turtles to totally abandon the coast, Jayamohan adds.
Arun K. Jacob, executive engineer, Irrigation Division, Alappuzha, says the actions will ensure the smooth flow of floodwaters. “It is important to remove the sandbar and widen the pozhi. We also started dredging the leading channel. All the works are making good progress. There is no need to have any apprehensions,” Mr. Jacob says.
The resistance against the mining activity is spearheaded by Janakeeya Samithi.