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Tamil Nadu - Tirunelveli Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Need to regularise garnet sand export

P. Sudhakar

Villagers allege companies are using earth movers



VALUE ADDED PRODUCT: The mineral deposit on the beach at Vattakkottai near Kanyakumari. — Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

TIRUNELVELI: The recent ransacking of a garnet sand export unit in the district has once again highlighted the need for stringent measures to regularise the business, which has proved very "lucrative" for some of those involved in it.

When beach sand is separated through a series of physical and chemical processes, it yields a range of costly minerals including garnet sand, ilmenite, rutile, casseterite, monazite etc. As the value-added products of garnet and ilmenite enjoy heavy demand in the international market, several units have come up in Tuticorin and Tirunelveli districts in the past two decades.

Though the business took roots on the beaches between Uvari and Kanyakumari in 1974-1975, when a Tuticorin-based company started mining beach sand and separating garnet sand from it for export, the boom came much later, after it attracted business from Tirunelveli district. With the assistance of a key person who was ousted from a Tuticorin-based garnet sand exporting company, business flourished, due to a variety of reasons.

"Even though our ancestors lived in this area, they fully relied upon the wealth of the sea for their livelihood. But these people, who mined products deposited on the seashore and the adjoining land just minted money, to the tune of several crores, within a few years," says 55-year-old S.V. Antony, president of Uvari village panchayat and student of geology.

Residents of all coastal hamlets between Uvari and Kanyakumari allege that the companies invariably use heavy earthmoving equipment for mining, ignoring the official restriction that deposition of sand on the beach can be mined only for a few centimetres. Moreover, after separating the costly minerals, the used sand is not used to fill the spot from where it was excavated. "It causes adverse ecological imbalances. One company has dug a channel to get the ore from deep seabed and this has affected fishing, because of the chemicals used during processing. But authorities have not taken any action. This is the main reason for skirmishes between the companies and the neighbouring villagers, who are ignorant about the regulations on the companies," he said.

But V. Venkataramani of Fisheries College and Research Institute, Tuticorin, says merely taking away the beach sand and dumping the used sand back in the sea will not affect fish breeding, provided the chemically treated sand contained chemicals within permissible limits. "But the seaside mining will affect turtle breeding," he warns.

The villagers as well as social activists here feel that the dos and don'ts laid down by the State and Central governments for this business should be transparent and in public domain so that people can alert the officials when things go wrong. "That would be the only effective solution to prevent the recurrence of such clashes," feels Mr. Antony.

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