The Kerala government Saturday expressed willingness to hold conciliatory talks on the Alappad mining issue but the protest council said it was not in favour of any discussion until the mining stopped. Fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma said, being a public sector enterprise, the Indian Rare Earth (IRE) should engage in responsible mining without affecting the erosion of shoreline in the area.
"Being a public sector undertaking, the IRE must do the mining in a responsible manner. They should engage in mining by protecting the shore. This is what the people want and the government stands by the people," she told the media here. "The environmental committee of the legislative assembly has already done an impact study in this regard. They have suggested the sustainable manner in which the mining should take place. Industries ministry will take necessary actions to initiate discussion with the protesters in this regard," she added.
However, members of the anti-mining People's Protest Council, which has been on a relay hunger strike for the past over two months against the mining activities, told PTI that the earlier round of talks with the IRE was a failure, hence fresh dialogue would serve no purpose until mining was stopped completely. "Earlier dialogues with IRE ended without any results. The dialogues are a waste of time unless the company stops mining. All previous dialogues have ended with the society being cheated," K S Sreekumar, a protester said.
"The protest is to end the mining which has been affecting this area for long. All rules are flouted in this mining here," he added. Industries minister E P Jayarajan said the ministry will look into the issues and take a decision accordingly. "Shore erosion was not there earlier. We are aware of the situation. We will look into how the situation came up now and take decisions accordingly," Jayarajan told reporters. 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 Alappad for the last 73 days demanding a complete halt to the mining activities.
Agitators claim hamlet after hamlet were "disappearing" from the map due to mining activities by the IRE, a central public sector undertaking, and state government-owned Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited (KMML). However, an official of the IRE, when contacted, said the company was following all mining norms. The two firms together have been engaged in mineral sand mining along the beach off the Kollam coast since the 1960s.
According to the protesters, a lithographic map decades ago had shown the area of Alappad panchayat as 89.5 square kilometre and it has now shrunk to a measly 7.6 square km due to sea erosion caused by the mining. Alappad is a narrow stretch between Trivandrum-Shoranur (TS) Canal and the Arabian Sea that was commissioned between the 18th and 19th century. Agitators allege that if this strip of land erodes any further, the backwaters would irreversibly merge with the sea and turn the river waters saline. This, in turn, would damage paddy fields of upper Kuttanad, which is below the sea level and is known as the rice bowl of Kerala.
Freshwater ecology expert Dr Jayalekshmy V had said the "uncontrolled" sand mining in Cheriyazheekkal-Alappad area was affecting the ecological stability of Ashtamudi Lake and other associated freshwater fluvial ecosystems. "Non-sustainable extraction of beach sand has led to the destruction of sandbanks and widening of the Pallickal river mouth and during the summer when the water content is low, it will lead to the influx of marine water into the river," she had said.
(With inputs from agencies.)