Sand Mining

Kerala Sand Mining 2018: How a 17 year Allapad girl became anti sand mining icon

Kerala – the God’s own country is in strong grip of unsustainable sand mining which has been happening for decades in the rivers and coastal areas of the state. The state has suffered hugely in 2004 Tsunami and 2018 Floods which, as several reports explain, were aggravated by illegal sand extraction. Yet nothing seems to have changed. Apart from violation of environmental norms, the extraction of finite mineral is going on, ignoring the nature’s warnings.

2018 Kerala Floods and Role of Sand Mining

Uncontrolled sand mining led to floods Sand is also essential for a river. Sand regulates a river’s flow, floodplains store water, recharge ground water, filter pollutants, allows aquatic life to thrive. When sand is taken out, water tables sink, rivers dry up, change course, banks collapse, floodplains get pitted with ponds, silt chokes rivers, vegetation and habitats get destroyed, dust pollution kicks in.”

-India has no record of the status of sand sources in a district, says the Ministry of Environment report. No data, too, on the demand or consumption of sand in India (although going by the spiraling rise of cement use in the last 20 years — from 1.37 billion tonnes in 1994 to 4.8 billion tonnes in 2016, one can make a guess). There is no estimate of permissible volume that can be extracted from a river, upstream or downstream, or height of a riverbed below which mining cannot occur; no bar on harmful extraction methods, depth of mining or minimising harmful effects; no long-term monitoring programme or annual status reports; no mandate on reclamation of river banks and beds. And, more than anything, there is no effort to move towards sand substitutes: quarry dust, incinerator ash, desert sand, manufactured sand, waste from steel industry and thermal power plants etc.

– But it’s not just Kerala. Almost each and every of India’s 400-plus rivers is in the grip of the sand mining mafia. There’s a devastation waiting to happen anywhere and everywhere. And the bad news is, time is seriously running out.  (27 Sept. 2018)

After flood, rivers dry up It was surprising that hardly a month after August 2018 floods, the water level in several rivers including Periyar, Pampa, Bharathapuzha, Kabani, Chalakudi, Achankovil, Manimala, Kallada, Kanniyar, Nallathanniyar, Kallada, Iruvanjipuzha, Chaliyar, Cherupuzha, Poonoor, Kadalundi, Baveli, Bara, Karuvannur rivers fell drastically.

Drought feared as major rivers dry up post August deluge
A sand bed that had formed in the Periyar river, Aluva, after the waters receded. Water was 20-feet deep here before the flood, but people can now walk across the river. (Image Source: Manorama) 

Wells along many these rivers also caved in. There was a threat of drought arising in the state. (11 Sept. 2018)

A.B. Anita, executive director, Centre for Water Resources Development Management, an autonomous research institution under the State government, said heavy run-off of the top soil in the upland areas and the siltation in the rivers were the reasons for the falling water level.

The top soil in the hills and upland areas had been removed in the flash floods to a depth of up to two metres in many places. As the top soil was shaved off, it ruined the hills’ capacity to sponge in rainwater.  Ms. Anita cited ecological destruction caused by deforestation, harmful land use in the upland areas and sand mining in the streams and rivers as having contributed to the top soil run-off and siltation. (8 Sept. 2018)

Similarly Abhilash S, assistant professor of Atmospheric Studies at the Cochin University of Science and Technology, held global warming and local factors resulting in the extreme climatic conditions in the state. He also attributed massive forest encroachment, tree felling, mindless quarrying, sand-mining and increased human intervention in flood planes as local reasons responsible for impending drought spell after devastating floods. (12 Sept. 2018) 


Palakkad: Sand mining mafia pounces back In Sept. 2018, illegal mining began in right earnest in all the major rivers in the district like Bharat-hapuzha, Gayatri, Kunthi and Kalpathi by building contractors and the mafia with the aid of local people. Though the state govt was speaking of building a new Kerala by protecting the environment, the sand mafia was least bothered.

“These sand deposits are crucial for the rivers as these have replaced the mud and the gravel formed on the river bed due to relentless illegal sand mining in the past three decades. The river without sand will be void of its natural features as shrubs and trees will grow on the river bed creating thickets which disturb the flow of water during the monsoon,” said Boban Mattumantha, chairman of Paristhithi Aikyavedi, a combination of different environmental groups.  (1 Sept. 2018)

Riverbeds teem with sand miners Decades of rampant sand mining rendered the Bharathapuzha river poor apology of its earlier self. However, the rain-induced floods re-deposited large quantities of sand in the river systems indicating a possibility of their revival. But seemed like the greed of the sand mafias wont let the river live.

Fresh sand deposits on the banks of the Bharathapuzha at Shoranur near Palakkad.
Fresh sand deposits on the banks of the Bharathapuzha at Shoranur near Palakkad.   (The Hindu) 

The river-fed areas targeted by the sand mafia after the floods are Shornur, Pattambi, Chalissery and Koppam regions of Palakkad district and Chamravattam and Thirur areas of Malappuram district. Apart from the Bharathapuzha, its feeders such as Gayathri, Kunthi, Karimpuzha and Kalpathy are also on the mafia’s hit list.

As the water level started receding in the river, mafias allegedly teamed up with revenue and police officials and worked round-the-clock to steal away the sand and other flood deposits.  (4 Sept. 2018)

After flood, illegal mining began in Periyar river With the floods re-depositing large quantities of sand, the sand mafia once again reared its ugly head in the Periyar valley. Miners already extracted boatloads of sand dumped by the floodwaters on the Parunthuranchi Manalppuram, an islet in the Periyar near Aluva town.

The activity, in the absence of strong official action, was set to intensify further. Unrestricted mining in the river earlier has badly affected the riverine and riparian ecosystem, besides the safety of bridges and sites on riverbeds. Many quarry operators engaged gangs on commission basis to protect their area of operations from interventions.  (11 Sept. 2018)

Police step up vigil to protect sand deposits The Ernakulam Rural police was investigating a few illegal sand mining units that became operational in Malayattur, Kothamangalam & Aluva soon after the floodwaters receded.  (11 Sept. 2018)


Sand mining swallowing villages, displacing thousands The coastline between Chavara and Alappad in Kollam district of Kerala has a decades-long story of people’s battle for survival against mining companies. On a journey through this coastal belt, one can spot abandoned houses, temples, schools and many more buildings where people once lived. Red coloured ponds and dried up mangrove forests are the other painful sights.

In this stretch in Kerala extensive mineral beach sand mining has been happening since the 1960s. The abandoned buildings are the remains of people’s failed agitations and indefinite strikes. One by one the villages in the area are vanishing from the map of Kerala.   (26 Oct. 2018)

– In Alappad panchayat, activists estimate that more than 6,000 fishermen families have vacated over the years due to beach erosion, drinking water scarcity and lack of fish availability. Sooner or later the panchayat will also be turned in to a sand bund, remaining residents say.

– The remaining families in this 23 km stretch of coastal region (Kollam Neendakara to Kayamkulam) are under the threat of eviction; for the last few years, they have been expecting a massive coastal erosion that can engulf their villages. Most of the people have been forced to leave their houses, even without any compensation from the authorities or the mining companies.  (9 Jan. 2019)

– In 1968, two public limited companies, Indian Rare Earth (IRE), which comes under the Centre, and Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited (KMML), under the state govt, began mining beach sand along the beach off the Kollam coast in the region.

– While a litho map of Alappad village showed 89.5 sq km of land, this shrunk to a mere 8 sq km by 2019. Meanwhile, 40 km away from the town, aggrieved fisherfolk from the coastal hamlets of Alappad have gathered at a village called as Vellana Thuruthu and are on a relay hunger strike which saw its 68th day on Jan. 7, 2019. (8 Jan. 2019)

– Fishermen say hamlet after hamlet was ‘disappearing’ from the map due to mining activities by the IRE, and KMML. Seeking to save their remaining villages, the people of Alappad and nearby hamlets under the banner of Anti-mining People’s Protest Council have been on a relay-hunger strike at Vellanathuruthu near here for the past over two months demanding a complete halt to the mining activities. An official of the IRE claimed the company was following all mining norms. (11 Jan. 2019)

– Also see video message by a 17 year old girl has started Kerala talking and doing something about unsustainable sand mining.  (11 Jan. 2019)

The cries are getting louder The Save Alappad campaign was catching up in the state capital. Activists, fishermen, rider and college students among others are coming out in solidarity with the village which is in the spotlight for the people’s protest against sand mining. (11 Jan. 2019)

IREL denies claims of shrinkage of land mass in Kerala IREL denied any wrongdoing that resulted in the shrinkage of land mass. The methodology adopted by IREL to collect beach sand minerals is highly scientific, environment-friendly and sustainable in nature, by complying with the requirement of Kerala State Pollution Control Board, said IREL in a statement issued in the name of its chief general manager on Jan. 14.

The statement said the sea erosion and accretion were part of the natural phenomenon occurring along the sea coast from time to time. The company claimed that the sea wash collection was being done only at a small portion while the rest of the area had sea wall protection.

Three blocks- block 4, 5 and 8 – are in Alappad village. At present, IREL is mining at block 4. There were several private companies involved in the collection of mineral sand deposit from the coast between Neendakara & Kayamkulam between 1909 & 1970. IREL started collecting mineral sand from 1970. (15 Jan. 2019)

Plea in Kerala HC against Alappad sand mining  A petition was filed before the Kerala High Court on Jan. 14 seeking to initiate steps to stop sand mining at Alappad and implement the recommendations of the Environment Assessment Committees for mitigating the dangers caused by mining. The petitioner, KM Hussain, a native of Alappad, submitted the mining by IREL has threatened the very existence of the Alappad panchayat.

If mining is allowed to continue, the entire area will be submerged. The petitioner also said the environmental assessment committee headed by former minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran had conducted a study on the issue and submitted a report before the Assembly. However, none of the suggestions has been implemented. The committee found unscientific excavation has resulted in sand accumulation. (15 Jan. 2019)

NGT seeks report on Kollam sand mining NGT asked Kollam district administration to furnish a report within a month after taking note of 17-year-old girl’s viral video on environmental impact of sand mining activity in her coastal village of Alappad in Kerala. The matter will now be heard on March 29.

– The news report has mentioned about Kavya S, a class 12 student, who made the video about the environmental impact of the decades-long black sand mining activity in her village Alappad.  (16 Jan. 2019)

Panel to study impact of mineral sand-mining at Alappad A high-level meeting convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan decided to set up an expert committee to study the impact of mineral sand-mining in the coastal village of Alappad in Kollam district.

The meeting decided to temporarily stop the process of sea washing or surface mining of sand that is being blamed for the attrition of coastal land in Alappad gram panchayat. The process will be suspended till the expert committee submitted its interim report.

Industries minister Mr. Jayarajan had earlier made it clear that there was no question of the government stopping sand-mining activities at Alappad as a condition for talks with the action council. He said that the public sector IRE had a long-term lease on the mining activities which provided a livelihood for hundreds of families in the area. Meanwhile K.C. Sreekumar, leader of the Janakeeya Samara Samiti, said they were in dark about the latest developments. (16 Jan. 2019)

Miners to be asked to stop sea washing of mineral sand Mineral sand miners at Alappad will be asked to stop the practice of sea washing of mineral sand for one month. However, inland washing will continue, Industries Minister E P Jayarajan said after a meeting with the Alappad agitation council on Jan. 17. An expert committee will be assigned to study the issues related to mining at Alappad. The committee headed by T N Prakash, CESS scientist, should submit its report in a month.  Damaged sea walls will be reconstructed. IRE will be asked to install more tetrapods. The pits due to mining will be refilled. A monitoring committee chaired by the District Collector will monitor the mining activities. IRE will be asked to conduct CSR projects in Alappad.

Sticking on to its demand on a ban on mining, the agitators said they would continue with the protest.. “We want the mining to be stopped. We will protest until death. Only the industry matters for the government, not the people,” they said. (18 Jan. 2019)

Alappad residents caught between the sand and sea An anti-mining protest group formed by the residents called ‘Karimanal Khanana virudha Jankeeya Samara samithi’ alleged IRE was only interested in collecting mineral sand from Vellanathuruth through a controversial method called sea washing. “IRE digs deep on the shore and expects sand from the adjacent areas to get accumulated in the pits. That is why they do not have plans to expand their mining activities,” said KCC Sreekumar, a member of the protest group.

– The protesters are against any form of mining. “Apart from giving temporary employment to 240 people, the operation has only worsened the condition of people here,” said Joshi, a protester of Mukkumpuzha.

– “It is not just a case for Alappad. Arattupuzha, Thrikunnapuzha and Purakkad in Alappuzha district will be completely destroyed if we allow mining to continue,” said Chandradas. “There will be no national waterways on the western shore and there will be sea water incursion in Upper Kuttanad and Onattukara.”

– IRE, KMML have been carrying out mining activities in over 160 hectares spread over Vellanathuruth village in Alappad panchayat and Ponmana and Ayanivelikulangara villages in Panmana panchayat for many decades. They have permission to continue mining till 2020. (20 Jan. 2019)

The many struggles of Kerala’s Alappad The mining started around 1912 by private companies and it was later taken over by PSUs in 1965. But the initial years were largely peaceful. “The fishermen community was ignorant about the mining. There were heaps of sand for them to be scooped up,” said district secretary of Dheevara Sabha M Valsan, who led many protests against IRE.

But things started to change when fishermen realised the mining started to affect their livelihood. They were also keen to get a salaried job in IRE. The first protest was led by former panchayat president of Alappad P Chellappan in 1970.

The protest lasted for 4 years and many were injured in police action. The second agitation in 1978 was led by Valsan to secure jobs for ITI certificate holders in the region. In the next two years, Karayogam of Pandarathuruth and Dheevara Sabha protested for getting a better deal for their land and for getting employment in IRE, in 1980.

The company recruited 240 locals as temporary workers in 1990. But the resentment against IRE grew in the aftermath of the tsunami that wreaked havoc in Alappad in 2004. Protesters blocked roads to the mining site and it led to the closure of sites for over two years.

By then the people realised the harmful nature of mining carried out by IRE, said Valsan. There were demands of stopping sea washing, refilling of land, use of scientific dredging. As the discontent grew, it resulted in another round of protest in 2009. The Oommen Chandy Government announced an increased compensation of land and property leased to the company. (20 Jan. 2019)

Is it shadow play that targets Alappad’s black sand? The outcry against the mining started in 1965 on the mineral-rich 22.5-km-stretch in the district. As the stretch contains heavy minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon and sillimanite, there is a huge demand for the sand from the area by industries inside the country and abroad.

The locals allege due to indiscriminate and unscientific mining, their village situated between the Arabian Sea and TS Canal has shrunk from 87.5 sq km to 8.7 sq km in a span of 50 years. A few private sector parties are keen to join the mining. “Some private players, mainly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are eyeing this stretch,” the officers said adding large-scale unauthorised mining and smuggling of mineral sand have been taking place for supplying to factories outside Kerala.

The gravity of the smuggling came to light when Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader and former Minister N K Premachandran urged the earlier UDF Government led by CM Oommen Chandy to order a CBI probe into the irregularities connected with mineral sand-mining. (20 Jan. 2019)

No plans to stop mineral sand mining at Alappad: Minister Industries Minister E P Jayarajan on Jan. 23 said the govt had no plans to stop mineral sand mining at Alappad. He urged the agitators to stop their protest and cooperate with the state’s development. “Mineral sand at Alappad is the state’s wealth like petroleum is to the Gulf countries.

(TNIE Image) 

The state can earn crores of rupees from that,” he told reporters. He said the mineral sand mining at Alappad dates back to the rule of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom. The IRE is ready to resolve the issues faced by the local population, he said. (24 Jan. 2019)

Residents oppose sand-mining Fisherfolks allege IREL in collusion with private parties illegally transporting sand beyond the permissible limit. According to Purakkad grama panchayat authorities, mining of mineral sand from Thottappally harbour is being carried out without the consent of the local body.

“At present there is no system to calculate the sand transported. The dredging has evolved as a major threat to the people living in the area. The sea erosion has already destroyed several houses. We will not allow the dredging to go on like this,” Purakkad grama panchayat vice president V. Sasikanthan said.

Besides, mineral sand-mining at Thottappally harbour, the State government has now decided to remove sand from Thottappally leading channel and estuary for “ensuring smooth flow of water” from the Kuttanad region through Thottappally spillway. “They are doing this in the name of preventing floods. But it is a smokescreen to loot rich mineral-sand deposits. Other than removing a sand bank close to estuary, they are also planning to cut several trees in the area. The move will only help to increase the intensity of sea erosion,” said, Saji Jayamohan of Green Roots Nature Conservation Forum. (28 Jan. 2019)

Informative video report  on Alappad sand mining (4 Feb. 2019)

SUMMARY The above compilation of sand mining related developments in Kerala in 2018 clearly shows that unsustainable and illegal sand mining played a role in aggravating 2018 flood situation. It is also clear that unsustainable mining in coastal areas in Kollam district has been irreversibly damaging the villages along the coastline.

At the same time, there seems to be legacy of failure on behalf of state government first in recognizing and then addressing the social and environmental impacts of unsustainable sand mining in the state. The story of Allpad exemplifies that more than anything. Its interesting to see how a video from a 17 year girl from affected village had such far reaching impacts.

Related image

Being located at sea shore the state is highly vulnerable to climatic changes. Earlier, the 2004 Tsunami and now 2018 floods have cautioned the state that how unsustainable mining can add to devastation. One hopes, Kerala will not ignore these repeated warnings in 2019.

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (

End Note:- As part of annual exercise since 2015, SANDRP is presenting year end overview on the issue of illegal sand mining in India’s rivers. This year we have been publishing these reports in a state wise format. Before Kerala we have uploaded illegal sand mining overview for following states:

Punjab Sand Mining 2018 Overview: SAD SAGA OF STATE FAILURE

Rajasthan: SC Banned Riverbed Mining through 2018: Centre & State Show No Concern

Gujarat Sand Mining 2018: Can Technology alone help Stop Illegal Sand Mining?

Uttar Pradesh Sand Mining 2018: Key NGT orders slap for MoEF

Madhya Pradesh Sand Mining 2018: Unprecedented Violence by Sand Mafia

Karnataka Sand Mining 2018: Hopeless, But Action Packed!

Tamil Nadu Sand Mining 2018: Story of Nexus exposed by a brave Journalists

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