The Sandy Foundation Of Tamil Politics

From Scroll.in, a fascinating look into the sand mafia that rules Tamil Nadu (and many other Indian states) and its impact on politics and the environment there:

However, people in villages see this money [Lila: from the sale of sand from dried up river beds] circulating. A part of it, they say, goes to local party workers. A farmer from a village near Karur claimed that “about Rs 1,000 from each unit is shared amongst the local party workers: Rs 25 to the person in the village, Rs 150 to the taluka head, Rs 350 to the district members, and so on.” This is echoed by both researchers and politicians like K Kaliyan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Abhijit Sen, a former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, said India’s political parties “maintain their party cadres predominantly through the construction sector”. In Punjab, people close to the ruling Akali Dal control both sand mining and stone crushing. In West Bengal, syndicates control urban infrastructure projects. Another part of this money, said the researcher, goes into fighting elections. Be it for campaigning or for paying voters in cash.

These questions – about money flowing from sand mining to AIADMK’s cadre and being used in elections – were listed in the questionnaires sent to Jayalalithaa, Venkataramanan and Arumugasamy. This article will be updated when they respond.

For now, Sen’s observation triggers a fresh question. If a ruling party depends on the mining of a mineral resource to maintain itself, what is the fallout?

What it all means

Some years ago, farmers from 12 villages in Ettayapuram Taluk of Tuticorin district decided to stop sand mining. Among other things, they seized earthmovers and trucks. In response, said an article by R Seenivasan, a PhD Candidate with the University of Westminster, the farmers “were slapped with criminal charges and branded as ‘extremists’ who take ‘law into their hands’. Many farmers were sent to jail for days and charged for ‘unlawful assembly, rioting, obstructing government work and officers,’ under various penal sections of the Indian penal code.”

This is a common refrain. The police similarly slapped cases on the women of Kalathur, a village on the Palar, when they protested last year against sand mining. When this reporter met V Chandrasekhar, who has been agitating against sand mining in Villupuram and Pondicherry, it was shortly after Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was beaten up in the Patiala House complex. “That happens every day here. The police is an instrument of the state. No one would dare go to the police here,” said Chandrasekhar.

This pattern, of siding with the miners and not with the locals, shows up in poor supervision of sand mining. As the PUCL study found, sand was being mined till almost a 10 metre depth in the Palar. It also shows in the state government’s support for sand mining over, say, environmental concerns.

Responding to a petition filed in the Madras High Court by the Cauvery Neervala Athara Pathukappu Sangam, a non-profit in Erode, the state government argued that sand mining doesn’t need an environment clearance since quarrying operations were carried out by the PWD scientifically.

When the court insisted on an environmental impact assessment, a lawyer in the Madurai court who fought against sand mining, told Scroll on the condition of anonymity, the state government rushed through an environmental clearance in just three months.

Scroll asked Jayalalitha, Rama Mohana Rao, Venkataramanan and Arumugasamy for their comment on the charges that the state government and the ruling party have acted in a manner which benefits sand miners and not local communities. There was no response.

The combined fallout of all this has not been pretty. As these quarries scour their way along Tamil Nadu’s rivers, the state’s water crisis is worsening. Groundwater levels, for instance, are collapsing across the state. That said, the ravages of sand mining go beyond ecological damage. The state’s villages and politics have been damaged as well.”

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