Sand Extraction from Pampa
Anietta Susane Samuel
14th October 2020
Ushering in a new spell of trouble for the government already being embroiled in the gold-smuggling case, the Vigilance court has ordered a probe into the mining of flood-accumulated sand from Triveni bank in Pampa.
The order was issued based on a complaint filed by Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala, who had knocked on the judiciary's doors after the state denied his demand for a Vigilance probe. He had alleged corruption in awarding the contract to a Kannur-based firm to mine and transport sand. Pathanamthitta district collector already issued an order, claiming to clear all the plastic and debris from the riverbank. Removal of sand collected on the bank during the floods is not allowed.
The earlier forest department had declined the order to remove the sand from the river. But later, DGP, former chief secretary, visited the site and ordered the removal of the sand.
The Chief Secretary also mentioned that there is no need to wait for the forest department's nod and asked the company to start with the sand extraction at the earliest.
The private company had stopped the process until the chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, condemned the forest department's order. The immediate removal of sand was unavoidable as it possessed the threat of floods during the monsoon season, due to which the DM Act prevailed over the Forest Act. According to The Hindu, The Chief Minister also mentioned that the private company could remove the sediment ordered by the collector under the DM Act. The forest authority had no power to challenge the collector's abilities as chairperson of the district disaster management authority.
Although the private company could remove the sand, they could not sell the sand as it belonged to the government. Mr Vijayan also added that the priority was not to sell the sand Chennithala. There was a demand for Vigilance probe after reports emerged that former Chief Secretary Tom Jose, current Chief Secretary Viswas Mehta, and State Police Chief Loknath Behera had flown to Pampa in a helicopter taken on wet lease from Pawan Hans and conducted a meeting to finalise the deal.
The government, however, justified its action saying it decided to mine sand under the Disaster Management Act. The court, however, observed that it did not require the government's permission to order a probe. The Vigilance was also directed to file the preliminary report within 45 days.
News Sources: The Hindu, Indian Express, Malayalam Samayam, Kerala Kaumudi.
Edited by: Sanskriti Airon