At a highlevel meeting chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on January 16, 2019, the state government ordered the temporary halt of sea washing in Alappad. At the same time, the government permitted Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), a government body that carries out sand mining along with Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML), to continue sand mining following mining norms.
The governments decision was in force for only a month, and the two companies resumed sea washing since midFebruary 2019.
The governments decision was prompted by a hunger strike by the residents of Alappad in November 2018. Their primary demands were a complete halt to mining operations in Alappad, including a halt to the refilling of lands to stop sea washing.
Sand can be mined from the inland and seabed. Sea washing (or seabed mining) is the process of dredging of sand and extraction of minerals from the sea near the beach. IREL and KMMLs permission for sea washing is allegedly disputed as they are permitted to mine using inland washing only. Environmental impacts of sea washing include impacts on benthic ecosystems, land loss through erosion, changes in marine currents, damages to coastal embankments and delta structures and infrastructure. Some of these effects have already been felt by the people of Alappad, including land loss and increasing exposure to extreme weather events, such as floods and Cyclone Ockhi.
Alappad is a narrow strip of land between the Arabian Sea and TS Canal in Kollam district in Kerala. The black sand here is rich in minerals such as monzonite, iIlmenite, rutile, zircon, silemenite and garnet, making it lucrative for sand mining.
In 1970, people in Alappad protested against the failure of IREL to guarantee jobs to the fisherfolk community. In another agitation in 1978, the people asked for jobs as well as better compensation for land and property leased out to the company for mining. However, by the 1990s, the people realised the harmful nature of sand mining carried out by IREL. Their discontent resulted in another round of protest in 2009, when the then state government offered to increase the compensation for the land.
A study conducted by the Institute for Ocean Management in 2008 showed that the highest coastal erosion in Kerala was reported from Alappad and the adjacent Arattupuzha, Thrikkunnapuzha and Purakkad panchayats. The protest committee cites other studies conducted by the Centre for Earth Science Studies, National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology and Institute for Ocean Management, which claim that IREL and KMML have violated many laws, including the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules.