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Widespread conflicts over sand mining in rivers in Tamil Nadu, India

An insight into the large-scale illegal sand mining trade in Tamil Nadu for the building industry, with complex dynamics between the state, the sand mining mafia, the bureaucrats and the local people, and with many victims.


The accounts of "Social Metabolism" do globally show that the tonnage of materials extracted for the building industry is growing. Thus, according to a UNEP report from March 2014, sand and gravel account for the largest volume of solid material extracted globally [13].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Widespread conflicts over sand mining in rivers in Tamil Nadu, India
State or province:Tamil Nadu
Location of conflict:Widespread occurrence in the state of Tamil Nadu
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Mineral ore exploration
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Sand, gravel
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The offical record according to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for 2014-15 show Rs. 109.1 crore as revenue earned from sand mining [17]. Officially, it has 29 leases for mining in area less than 10 hectares, 14 leases for area between 10-15 hectares, and 42 leases for area more than 15 hectares [17]. However, according to newspaper reports, sand mining in Tamil Nadu is a Rs. 24,000 crore a year industry [6], i.e. approx. 4 billion USD, 2% of the state's GDP. (Tamil Nadu has the second largest economy in India with an official GDP of USD210 billion. Per capita GDP of Tamil Nadu was UD$3,000 in the year 2014–15, the third highest in India).

Level of Investment for the conflictive project4,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2000
Relevant government actors:Tamil Nadu state government
Courts of Justice, including National Green Tribunal
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:One main environmentalist: S. Mugilan, 49, author of book "Thathu Manal Kollai" (The Stealing of Beach Sand), 2014, has taken on polluters in Tamil Nadu for more than two decades. He has had victories: shutting down a Coke factory in Perundurai, closing a polluting textile-dyeing plant in Erode, and organising major protests against a nuclear power-plant on the coast. In one especially shocking case, he helped expose granite miners who tried to shore up business by offering narabali – human sacrifice. He has had many failures, too, and the one struggle which is always ongoing – his fight against Tamil Nadu’s sand-mining mafia.[12]
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Noise pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Large number of deaths of "environmental defenders" at the hands of the so-called "sand mafia" exploiting rivers and beaches for sand and gravel for the building industry, and also exploiting beach sand for industrial minerals.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Illegal sand mining is still very rampant in Tamil Nadu. It is a violent business. "Tamil Nadu has witnessed several mining-related murders since 2000, and those killed include local people, political activists, enforcement officials and even a policeman. On a few occasions, professional gangsters have been hired to do away with “opponents” of the illicit trade. The majority of the murders have taken place in the districts of Tirunelveli and Kancheepuram, mostly in hit-and-run incidents involving sand lorries." [4]
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[16]- The National Green Tribunal order for effective enforcement of river sand mining ban, which was declared in 2013 in May, 2015
[click to view]

[17]-Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guideline, September 2015 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India
[click to view]

High Court order related to sand mining regulation in 2010 in Tamil Nadu
[click to view]

The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act, 1957
[click to view]

River Sand Mining in India in 2016–III – Judicial Interventions (in Tamil Nadu and other states of India, posted on January 7, 2017 by SANDRP, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People
[click to view]

[1]- Full history of the nexus between politicians and illegal sand miners in Tamil Nadu for the last 3 decades
[click to view]

[2]- Frontline investigative report from 2015
[click to view]

[3]- Harassment and threats to the journalist for writing about sand mining mafia in Tamil Nadu
[click to view]

[4]- Report on the numerous murders related to protests against sand mining in Tamil Nadu over the years
[click to view]

[5]- Article about the scale of the illegal sand mining in Tamil Nadu
[click to view]

[7]- Report about the arrest of sand mining baron Shekhar Reddy
[click to view]

[8]- Report about the arrest of Shekhar Reddy in December 2016
[click to view]

[10]- Report about rampant mining in Palar basin
[click to view]

[11]- The reasons why there isn't enough protest against sand mining
[click to view]

[14]- Recent directive of the High Court to the government of Tamil Nadu to consider ban on river sand mining, March, 2017
[click to view]

[15]- News about the ban on sand mining in Palar river in Vellore District effective from March, 2017
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[12]The Wire. Holding His Ground Against the Sand Raiders of Tamil Nadu. By Sibi Arasu on 26/06/2016
[click to view]

News report on bureaucrat being transferred for lodging complaints against sand mining in Tamil Nadu
[click to view]

Detailed report on the sand mining mafia in India
[click to view]

A short clip of the ridges in the bank of river Thenpennaiyar and the many trucks extracting sand
[click to view]

The Wire. After Sand Mining Exposé in The Wire, Reporter Complains of Harassment, Intimidation. The Wire Staff on 16/03/2017
[click to view]

Other documents

[13] Report on the effects of Sand Mining by UNEP, March 2014
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2779
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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