Beach sand mining for ilmenite, garnet and other minerals in Tamil Nadu, India

In 2017, Sandhya Ravishankar, a journalist based in Chennai, was threatened for her reports on beach mining in Tamil Nadu. This is a lucrative business because of the minerals which are extracted and exported.


There is a long story of conflicts on titanium ores mining in the coast of Tamil Nadu; one of the episodes was explained at length by  environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman in October 24, 2007[2], when Tata Steel was trying to get a large stretch of red sand dunes. Ten years later, in March and April 2017,  Sandhya Ravishankar, a journalist based in Chennai, was being threatened for her reports in The Wire and The Economic Times on beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu. Beach sand mining is a lucrative business not only because it supplies raw materials to the construction industry but much more because it can make available minerals which are extracted from the sand, such as ilmenite (an ore for tinanium), zircon, rutile, garnet and others. They go mainly for export. [1] Several firms have controversially been extracting sand in the coast of Tamil Nadu for such industrial minerals for many years. This is the background to Sandhya Ravishankar's troubles in 2017. Back in 2013 she heard about a district collector in Tuticorin preparing to raid some illegal mines in the region. When she called Ashish Kumar, he confirmed that the raid was underway. Less than eight hours later, he had been transferred to another post. Ravishankar travelled through the area for a week, searching for more stories. It was during this time that she heard of the entrepreneur S. Vaikundarajan, owner of VV Mineral (VVM), a multi-crore business, and one of the most powerful men in the state. In 2013, as narrated by the The Hindu on 8 August 2013 [5],  " Special inspection teams which conducted raids on Tuesday at the sand quarry of V.V. Minerals, a company involved in mining operations in Tuticorin district, found large-scale illegal sand mining along the stretches of beaches at Vaipar, Vembar, Periyasamipuram and its surroundings in Vilathikulam taluk. Two teams comprising District Revenue Officer, Special Deputy Collector (Stamps), Assistant Director of Mines, Revenue Divisional Officer-Kovilpatti, Pollution Control Board officials and other revenue officials conducted raids at the mining locations for over six hours on Tuesday. Fines would be imposed on the offender soon based on the findings of the final report submitted to the Collector. Mr. Ashish Kumar said on Wednesday that around 81,000 cubic meters of raw sand had been mined illegally on more than 30 hectares of poromboke [commons] land at Vaipar, whereas miners were legally entitled to mine only on four hectares of leased land. Of the mined beach sand, mineral quantity of 230,000 tonnes was measured. The offence would attract punishment on charges of theft under IPC, provisions of the Tamil Nadu Public Properties Prevention of Damage and Loss Act, 1992, Illicit Mining and Minerals Act, Environmental Protection Act, 1986 and Coastal Regulation Zone notification, 2006. Based on five complaints of illegal sand mining by fishermen in June and grievances aired by them at a meeting in July, preliminary inspection was done by a committee comprising Deputy Collector (Training), Assistant Director of Mines and District Environmental Engineer ahead of the raid on Tuesday. The fishermen raised fears of sea erosion and environmental hazards owing to indiscriminate mining at beaches, the Collector said. In May, officials launched a crackdown on illegal beach mining of red sand in Beach Minerals Company (BMC) at Padugapaththu in Sathankulam taluk and a fine of Rs.3.10 crore was imposed on the offender following complaints of fishermen at the Periyathaalai coast. Illegal mining of 49.1 lakh cubic metres of raw sand and mineral quantity of 2.82 lakh tonnes from the mined property was detected (1 lakh = 100,000). An evaluation report of the mineral samples was yet to come and its fine amount would be 10 to 20 times higher than the penalty levied for raw sand mining by the BMC, he said. Such illegal operations were on in Tirunelveli district with 26 sand quarries and some in Kanyakumari district also, he said." This was the report in The Hindu and also in the EPW [7]  in 2013.  ============================================  Four years later, on 28 March 2017, The Hindu ran another report concerning illegal beach sand mining [4]: "455,245 tonnes of beach minerals found. As many as 30 godowns containing beach sand have been sealed in Thoothukudi district, according to Collector M. Ravikumar. 15 locations searched. Addressing journalists here on Monday, he said that Taluk-level officials had conducted searches at 15 locations as part of a crackdown that began last week. Vast quantities of minerals mined from beach sand such as garnet, ilmenite, zircon and rutile were found stocked in these godowns. During the search operation, the squads found a total of 455,245 tonnes of beach minerals and 312,314 tonnes of raw beach sand. The searches were initiated by the district administration in the wake of the suspension of Assistant Director of Mines Krishnamohan over allegations that he had produced fake documents to facilitate the illegal export of beach minerals belonging to V.V. Mineral, a leading firm. The officials would now probe whether the mined beach minerals stocked in the sealed godowns were legally sourced, the Collector said. Beach sand mining was banned by the State government in August 2013." In conclusion, we see here a struggle from fishermen and (some) state officers against local firms which, apparently illegally, engage in large scale sand mining for industrial minerals. The awareness of the facts has escalated in 2017, to some extent due to Sadhya Ravishankar's series of articles in The Wire.  By the end of 2016 reliable press sources (The Hindu and others) had reported that official probes acknowledged that V.V. Minerals "had illegally transported 9.65 lakh tonnes of heavy minerals during 2014-15 and 2015-16, well after the ban on beach sand mining and issuances of transport permits for raw sand and minerals had come into force in September 2013".[6].

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Basic Data
NameBeach sand mining for ilmenite, garnet and other minerals in Tamil Nadu, India
ProvinceTamil Nadu
SiteTuticorin / Thoothukudi
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesIlmenite, Garnet, Zircon, Rutile, Monazite.
Sand, gravel
Titanium ores
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe geological and economic context for this conflicts is well described by in these terms: "India, bestowed with a coastline of over 6000 km, hosts some of the largest and richest coastline placers. Our beach sand deposits and dunes contain heavy minerals like ilmenite, rutile, garnet, monazite, zircon, and sillimanite... Ilmenite-rich major beach and dune sand deposits occur in the

coastal stretches of Tamil Nadu (Manavalakurichi, Midalam, Vayakallur), Kerala (Chavara), Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra... The Indian resources of placer minerals are: 348 Million tons (Mt) of Ilmenite, 107 Mt of garnet, 21 Mt of zircon, 18 Mt of monazite and 130 Mt of Sillimanite. Indian resources

constitute about 35% of world resources of Ilmenite, 10% of Rutile, 14% of Zircon and 71.4% of Monazite. India meets about 10% of the world requirement of garnet." [8]. These are the minerals extracted from beach sands and dunes in Tamil Nadu. The conflicts arise on the environmental and social effects of the extraction. The legality or the illegality of the processes is only one of the factors to be taken into account in the description and analyses of such processes. Ilmenite and garnet are the most relevant minerals, and monazite has a special role in the controversies in India as a source for thorium (for nuclear power). A report in Down to Earth [3] stated that " A Tamil Nadu government-appointed task force found that between 2007 and 2012, about 1.35 million tonnes of ilmenite and 205,000 tonnes of garnet were mined illegally from the state. "

One of the firms most deeply involved in controversy is V V Minerals which describes itself in the web as India's "largest Manufacturer and Exporter of Garnet & Ilmenite. At the global level, we are poised to rise to the position number one. VVM is the first private Ilmenite Exporter in India. Established in 1989, we have achieved significant market share in Europe, Middle East, East Asia, Australia and the USA. We are proud to have been certified with ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001:2007 by TUV. VVM's huge annual output of 700,000 metric tonnes of heavy minerals which include Garnet Abrasive, Ilmenite, Zircon , Rutile, Sillimanite and Leucoxene due to our control of a 40 km beach area with continuous placer mineral deposits plus another 7000 acres of heavy mineral - rich land..We are also the first private company in India holding granted license for Mining and Exporting of Ilmenite from the Government of India. Garnet Abrasive is mainly used for Water Filtration, Sand Blasting, Water Jet Cutting, Surface Preparation and other applications. Ilmenite is mainly used for manufacturing Titanium dioxide pigment, Titanium slag and other products; Rutile is mainly used for Welding Electrode , Titanium metal and pigment industries and Zircon for the production of opacifiers, glazes and frits, floor and decorative tiles, sanitary ware, glass and steel refractory, metal castings and specialised glass. Also, Sillimanite is used in refractories. We owe our success to our primary objective -Customer Delight and Satisfaction - providing the best quality of Garnet, Ilmenite, Rutile , Zircon,Sillimanite and Leucoxene in lesser lead times at globally competitive prices. We have achieved this by strengthening the areas of human resource, raw material, modernisation, logistics, finance and infrastructure. The numerous awards and recognitions from various governmental and non-governmental agencies stand testimony to this. Our corporate policy of having autonomous departments has ensured the evolution of VVM as a prompt and responsive organization catering to our clients' multifarious needs. The company's special focus on the quality of our production team has translated into higher quality products and lesser lead times by adopting Integrated Management System (IMS). Our streamlined mining, processing, logistics and warehousing facilities augment this focus."
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date2013
Company Names or State EnterprisesV V Mineral from India
Beach Minerals Producers Association from India
Relevant government actorsNational Green Tribunal

Government of Tamil Nadu

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-Centre for Science and Environment (Delhi), editor of Down to Earth.

-Mongabay (Mongabay is a non-profit provider of conservation and environmental science news).
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Journalists. "District Collectors" (government officers).
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Waste overflow
Potential: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Mine tailing spills, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
OtherDestruction of dunes, beaches.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
OtherImpacts on fisheries
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Court decision (undecided)
Alleged harrassment of journalists.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite a ban in 2013, beach sand mining for minerals has been going on in this part of Tamil Nadu.
Sources and Materials



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[7] Rajendran, S. (2013). Illegal Mining, Impatient Mafia and Ill-treated Administrators. Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XLVIII No. 49 pp 16-17
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[6]The Hindu, V.V. Minerals operated in violation of ban: Panel, by

T. Ramakrishnan, Chennai, Nov. 25, 2016
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[4] The Hindu, 30 beach mineral godowns sealed, Staff Reporter

THOOTHUKUDI March 28, 2017
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[1]Somak Goshal, Huffington Post, 17/3/17
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[3] Beachside troubles, by Anupam Chakravartty, Down to Earth, 28 February 2014
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[2] Titanium or Water? Trouble brews in Southern India, by Nityanand Jayaraman, Special to CorpWatch. October 24th, 2007
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[5] Raids on Tuticorin mining sites reveal large-scale violations, 8 August 2013, The Hindu
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Media Links

"Battling India’s Sand Barons. 11 May 2016 / Sibi Arasu. Environmental activist S. Mugilan confronts the sand-mining mafia in India’s Tamil Nadu state, even as other activists lose their lives attempting to save the state’s natural resources." A report on raw sand, gravel, granite mining in Tamil Nadu for the building industry, including also some remarks on beach sand mining for minerals.
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Other Documents

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Other Comments Sandhya Ravissankar is a Chennai-based journalist investigating illegal beach sand mining for years. Here the links to some articles by her in The Wire. 2017.

a) The Countdown Begins For Tamil Nadu’s Beach Sand Mining Cartel 27/01/2017 ,

b) Thirty Years of Official Collusion Helped Tamil Nadu’s Beach Miners Break the Law


c) How India’s Largest Beach Sand Mineral Exporter Got to Where He Is


d) In Tamil Nadu, Sixteen Years Of Sand Mining Loot Officially Termed ‘Illegal’. 20/02/2017,
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Last update24/04/2017