Truck scale

Large-scale theft of red soil in an ecologically sensitive area near Watrap suspected

Environmental activists have complained about large scale theft of red soil by illegal mining in the eco-sensitive area along Srivilliputtur Megamalai Tiger Reserve (SMTR) at Watrap Taluk in Virudhunagar district.

Petitions complaining of illegal mining and requesting an investigation into it were sent to the Collector of Virudhunagar, Director and Deputy Director of SMTR, Police and Revenue Officers by a High Court Barrister of Chennai, S. Kamalakannan.

In his complaint, Mr Kamalakannan said the Ministry of Mines had issued an order to extract topsoil from the Sirukulam Reservoir near Ilanthaikulam for 60 days for agricultural purposes from September 5 to November 3. “This is despite the fact that the Sirukulam Reservoir itself is in the environmentally sensitive area,” said local defender and environmental activist, AS Murugan.

However, after mining in the reservoir for a few days, dozens of trucks extracted red soil from three ryotwari patta lands, located just 1.5 km from ground zero of the ecologically sensitive zone. After residents complained, forest officials seized more than 20 vehicles with red dirt and handed them over to tax officials on September 29, Murugan said.

However, based on the complaint filed by the village administrative officer, Mayakrishnan, Nathampatti police registered a case of only three tractors with trailers accused of stealing patta land land without any permission. “When our team went there, only three tractors had loaded the ground. Other vehicles were not loaded so we could not act on those vehicles,” said Watrap Tahsildar, A. Umamaheswari.

Activists claim the huge volume of red soil was sold to various brick kilns in the area, contrary to the permission sought to use the land for agricultural purposes. “Inspection by tax and forestry officials at the brick kilns will reveal the illegal activity that the mining was not for agricultural purposes,” Mr Murugan said.

The Tahsildar said illegal mining in the patta lands has been stopped and mining in the Sirukulam reservoir is ongoing as per the permission granted. “We are monitoring this activity closely,” the Tahsildar said.

Mr. Kamalakannan said that since illegal mining in the environmentally sensitive area continues despite complaints filed with officials from all relevant departments, he plans to file a complaint with the National Green Tribunal.