Sand Mining

South Zone: 25 sand and stone mining workers died since Dec. 2020

(Feature Image:- The spot where gelatin sticks exploded in Feb. 2021 killing 6 people at a quarry site at Hirenagaveli village, Chikkaballapur district. Credit: DH Photo/Pushkar V)

Annually scores of Indian people have been meeting untimely deaths and suffering injuries due to violence and accidents associated with unregulated sand mining activities. We have compiled zone wise detailed reports on human toll of sand mining for the period between December 2020 and March 2022. The reports for North, East and North East and West zones have been published. This is fourth and last summary report of detailed file attached here on the issue for South zone covering Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala states. We did not come across any report on the subject from Union Territory of Puducherry for this period.

SOUTH INDIA

Karnataka Total toll in the reporting period: 31 deaths, 17 injured.

Between Dec 2020 and March 2022, at least 19 people (including 15 women and a child) lost their lives while 17 suffered injuries in sand mining related violence and accidents in Karnataka. Additionally, 12 mine workers were killed in 2 blast incidents in stone quarry sites first in Shivamogga in January 2021 killing 6 mine workers and then in Chikkaballapur in February 2021 again killing 6 mine workers.

There have been four reports of attack by illegal sand miners causing injuries to 9 people including 2 government officials, 1 activist and 6 citizens. In one such attack, Venkataswamy, Revenue Inspector, Ballari, his wife and son were grievously injured by four miscreants at his house in December 2021. Day before the assault, the officer had seized a tractor carrying illegally mined sand. In March 2021, activist Girish Achar, who has been fighting against forest encroachment, illegal stone quarrying, and sand mining for more than 15 years was assaulted by unidentified people near Mattimane in Hosanagar taluk, Shivamogga. 

11 die after sand truck-mini bus collision near Dharwad in Jan. 2021. The mangled sand truck which was coming from Belagavi (Photo | Express)

The deaths of 13 people including 11 women on a college reunion trip by over speeding  sand truck in January 2021 in Dharwad is among most fatal accident in the state. In yet another horrific road accident, 6 people including 3 men, 2 women and a minor boy were killed when a rashly driven tipper truck carrying gravel overturned on 2 cars and a motorcycle in Bengaluru in January 2022. Similarly, in April 2021, a sand truck fell on railway track in Bengaluru raising a potential accident threat, however it was averted by alert staff.  

Telangana Total toll in the reporting period: 21 deaths, 3 injured.

The available reports reveal death of at least 21 people on account of sand mining related incidents in Telangana between December 2020 and March 2022. While road accidents involving sand laden vehicles killed 11 people, drowning in sand pits has possibly led to death of 6 persons. The total death toll includes 6 children of which 4 were killed in road accidents and 2 in drowning in sand pits. The sand pits in Bhadrachalam stretch of Godavari river have become death trap for local people due to large scale mining.

In the past, the state has seen several protests against road accidents by sand trucks in Bhupalpally, Sircilla and Warangal districts. The situation has not improved much there. In Dec 2020, death of a person by a sand truck in Kamareddy, turned the mob violent who set the truck on fire & damaged several other vehicles. Police was called in to control the situation.

There were 6 violent attacks by sand mafia during this period. In two such incidents forest staff in March 2021 and police team in July 2021 were targeted while in others, 4 people including a dalit farmer and a Village Revenue Assistant (VRA) were killed.

VRA Gautam was attacked and killed by the sand mafia in Dec. 2021. Image 10 TV.

First in April 2021, a dalit farmer Gaddala Madhu was stabbed to death by sand mafia when the former tried to stop illegal sand mining near his village Vadyala in Midgul Mandal of Mahabubnagar district. Then in December 2021, a VRA named Gautham was beaten to death by sand smugglers in Kandgaon village in Bodhan mandal in Nizamabad district when he tried to stop illegal sand mining. The day light murder of a lawyer couple in Peddapalli in February 2021 is also reportedly linked to sand mafia flourishing under political patronage.   

Tamil Nadu Total toll in the period: 21 death, 11 injured.

In Tamil Nadu, 19 people have died while 10 suffered injuries in sand mining related violence and accidents from December 2020 to March 2022. Additionally, 2 people have died and one suffered injury in stone mining related accidents in this period. 13 people including 3 women plantation workers and two families of 5 members were killed in 3 road accidents that happened in just one month of February 2021 involving sand transporting vehicles in the state.

There have been at least 5 incidents of violent attack by sand mafias killing 2 Dalit youths and injuring 7 people including 2 government officials, 1 activists and 2 common citizens. A woman councillor and her father also survived injuries after assault by sand mafia for complaint against illegal mining. While 1 casualty occurred due to drowning in sand pit, 1 person was killed and 3 faced injuries in violent clash between rival sand smuggler groups.

Pic of 2 victims who were stabbed to death with knives and bottles in Ranipet in April 2021.  Image TNM.

The murder to 2 dalit youths from Ranipet in April 2021 resulted in agitation by affected community seeking arrest of accused and compensation to families. The two victims Arjunan (26) from Soghanur village and Suriya (26) from Sembedu village were stabbed to death with knives and bottles while three of their friends were injured. The victims were reportedly complaining against sand mining activities and objecting to speeding sand trucks moving through residential area.

In the same month,  C Palanisamy, a 35-year-old activist fighting against illegal sand mining in Murugaraja Nagar in Pudukottai district, was beaten up allegedly by family members of the panchayat president after he refused to give up the cause. He was also manhandled by a group two months ago after he approached the district collector and superintendent of police against the illegal sand mining.

In August 2021, a compromise meeting between two rival sand smuggler groups went haywire resulting in death of a member and injuries of 3 others in Devakottai taluk of Sivaganga district. In the same taluk, a revenue department employee suffered severe cut injuries when an armed gang assaulted him in January 2021.

Before this, a VAO in Devakottai block was targeted by a sand mining gang. Though revenue officials then seized the sand laden lorry, a police inquiry was delayed due to political pressure. Following this, the VAO Association staged a protest. In May 2020, expressing their anguish and apprehension at ‘rampant illegal sand mining’ in Devakottai taluk, members affiliated to the VRO Association had demanded immediately arrest all the 10 accused.

As per a report the drowning incidents and deaths in soil, sand, stone mine pits are on the rise in the state.

Andhra Pradesh Total death toll in the period: 13.

We could find media reports on sand mining violence and accidents in Andhra Pradesh for the period between May 2021 and August 2021 out of the reporting period. In these four months, 13 people have died in 2 incidents of sand and stone mining in the state.

Firstly, 10 workers were killed in a blast at a limestone quarry near Mamillapalli village under Kalasapadu mandal in Kadapa district. The incident revealed several such illegal stone quarries were functioning in the district and abject failure of administration to check these. Then in Chittoor district 3 people including truck driver were electrocuted while unloading gravel filled truck in August 2021.

In July 2021, YSRCP local leaders reportedly attacked the staff of Jay Pee company awarded sand mining contract for refusing money from sand mining operations in various districts. Strangely, company’s complaint was not registered by the police.

Trucks stuck in Krishna river floodwaters at a sand quarry near Chevitickallu in Krishna district in August 2021. Image The Hans India

The state has also seen a big man-made disaster in August 2021 when sudden discharges from Pulichintala project created flash flood in Krishna river trapping around 135 sand trucks. Fortunately around 300 people including truck drivers, helpers, mine workers were rescued. As per the drivers there was no warning given to them about the water discharge.

The incident shows serious irregularities and violations in mining and dam operations in the state. Mining in rivers is generally prohibited during monsoon months and night hours. The upstream dam released water in river without alerting concerned officials or people in the area. Fortunately the miners were rescued otherwise it could have been one of the biggest mining related disasters in the country. 

This report highlights drowning deaths due to sand pits in Krishna river in Guntur district. Similarly, media report on NCRB 2019 drowning deaths data mentions Krishna, Godavari rivers adding into drowning death numbers. However it’s not known if NCRB keeps a record of deaths occurred in sand mining pits.

Kerala

We could find just 3 reports on sand mining related deaths from Kerala for the reporting period. First, in December 2020, S V Pradeep a journalist was killed by a truck carrying M-sand in Thiruvananthapuram. Following the incident there were allegations that it was a deliberate act to eliminate him. Then in March 2022, a driver died after the loaded truck fell into a water filled quarry pit in Kochi.

In 1997, the two-wheeler Shafiq was riding on was hit by a truck near his house in Thekkumuri. (News18)

The story of policeman TK Muhammad Shafiq is quite tragic. He had led several operations against sand mafia and was bed ridden for 24 years after fatally injured by an unknown vehicle. 

Summary

The 5 south Indian states have seen at least 64 deaths and 30 injuries (if we exclude the 25 deaths and one injury due to stone mining from the figures in table above) on account of sand mining related violence and accidents between December 2020 and March 2022. 47 people were killed and 9 had injuries due to road accidents involving sand mining vehicles in this period.

Thick smoke emanating from lime stone quarry after a blast killing 10 workers, injuring several others in Kadapa in May 2021. Image source: ToI

Out of total, just 3 states of Karnataka (19), Telangana (21) and Tamil Nadu (19) have accounted for 59 deaths and all 30 injuries in sand mining related incidents.

The accidents and mine collapse incidents have taken lives of 25 people mainly mine workers of which 23 casualties have taken place in stone mining quarries in just two states of Karnataka (12) and Andhra Pradesh (10). In addition to this, 7 people have died after drowning in sand mine pits and 6 of the total deaths occurred in Telangana state.

The zone has also seen 8 people being murdered by sand mafias including 5 common citizens, 1 activist and 2 government officials while 21 people getting injured in attacks by illegal sand miners which includes 10 common citizens, 2 activists and 06 government officials. 

Compile by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

Note:- The figures compiled here are indicative based on various media reports we have come across for the reporting period so far. There could be several more sand mining violence and death incidents going unreported, being reported as routine accidents without revealing critical information or have remained uncovered by us. Also there is hardly any follow ups on people critically injured in attacks by mafias and hit by sand trucks. The actual death toll and injuries by unabated riverbed mining activities in South Zone states could be higher than numbers mentioned here.

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