The Sunday Leader

Environment Raped As Sand-Mining Continues

by Ashanthi Warunasuirya

It was revealed at numerous times that illegal sand mining is being carried out on a massive scale in the Samanthurai area in Gal Oya. The villagers in Samanthurai first revealed this to us, but only after going on an observation tour in the area, we ourselves witnessed its extent. It took us some time to collect the necessary evidence to show how this illegal activity is being carried out in broad daylight.

The Sunday Leader recently revealed that the illegal sand-mining racket has become a menace in Gal Oya and adjacent areas and how the procedure of issuing permits has become heavily politicised. Here the names of two powerful politicians of the area were also mentioned for their involvement in the racket. Among them was Minister Daya Gamage, who is a powerful minister in the Yahapalana Government. However, refuting the allegations, the minister said that if anyone asks him for a permit, he would make a request to the relevant authorities and placed the responsibility of checking the suitability of the applicant on the Mining Bureau. But sources have revealed that the minister has already submitted to the Bureau a list of persons to be given sand mining permits. More details on this issue were published in our previous articles.

Before granting a sand mining permit, the applicant’s qualifications are being assessed by a supervising committee comprised of the Irrigations Department and the local councils. But in the end, the bulk of the responsibility is vested with the Bureau. However, here it is not the Chairman, but the Director General who has been given the key responsibility to approve the permits. When queried, the present Director General of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, D. Sajjana De Silva, said that he is not subjected to any undue political influence. Although he makes such bold statements openly, it has become a known secret that the officials at the Bureau have to bow down to the political pressure coming from the top.

However, it has become problematic as to how could there be no proper observation procedure to track down the illegal sand mining when there are more than enough employees at the Gal Oya Branch of the Bureau. At the moment, 35 permits have been issued to mine sand in Gal Oya river banks. Among these are several traditional sand miners. Commenting on the matter, Colombo District field assistant of the Bureau W.M. D. Hammika and Field Assistant of the Mines Bureau Gal Oya Dehiattakandiya Branch H.M. Rupasinghe said that they are conducting constant observations on illegal sand mining. They also said that the police is also in high alert to arrest anyone who is conducting illegal sand mining.

In our tour, we observed along the Mihindupura area in Neikaduwa G.S. Division. Along the Gal Oya river, we saw several permit holders mining sand on the river banks. Here it was evident that in most places the river banks were shattered due to excessive mining. This loss of a natural barrier has shown its adverse consequences as the recent floods severely damaged the residential areas in Gal Oya. In Mihindupura area, making bricks has become a common trade now. But it is mostly done in areas that had been given to the public by previous governments for cultivation. Since many people now work in these brick factories, there is no possibility of halting such trades. The earth is removed in large quantities in the brick manufacturing process resulting in a large amount of soil erosion during a flood. Even though these businesses had been encouraged by previous government for mere political gains, at the end it’s the people who are suffering from these atrocities.

In some points of Gal Oya River, there are sand deposits accumulated since a long time. However, on most occasions, miners only excavate sand from one bank. It proves that these people are only focused on their gains. But at the end, it’s the Irrigations Department that is vested with the responsibility of clearing out these banks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that they are doing their job properly either.

Gayan Buddhika of Ampara has been carrying out sand mining under a permit for over 16 years. At present he owns four permits to mine sand in various areas. One such permit provides jobs for around 10 families. At present, over 100 employees are working under him. “Our biggest concern is about the false rumours that are being spread by the media. Some time ago a television channel came here and tried to conceal the truth by showing old videos. We have been given a small port to harbor our boats under the supervision of the district committee. Some media are expecting bribes from us in order to get this story removed. The Bureau and the police are constantly observing us. This is our vocation. We are doing everything we can to protect the environment. This is a job of poor men. Some politicians are trying to give permits to their stooges. That is unfair” he said.

When queried as to why they are not excavating sand deposited in the other side of the river bank, he said that it is difficult for them to reach such deposits. “We have to make bridges to reach the other side. Even the Irrigations Department is not giving us any support in this.”

In the Ampara District, a cube of sand costs around Rs. 4500. A sand merchant normally pays Rs. 1750 for a worker to mine 1 cube of sand. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, sand mining is permitted in Ampara. Transporting sand has been restricted to weekends. This is a strict condition of the permit. Accordingly, a worker is able to earn around 3000 rupees in two days. The mining is being conducted from 6 am to 6 pm and 130 buckets of sand has to be mined to fill 1 cube of sand. This equals to 480 shovels filled with sand. In these areas, both men and women are engaged in sand mining. Their face many hardships. Still illegal sand mining is going to take its toll in the long run against all of them. If the trade is being carried out in a regulated manner, it would be beneficial to the country. It is the responsibility of the government to make it so.

At present, the Bureau needs 47 field assistants. But sources say, the Bureau has only 27 field assistants. Ampara has only an engineer and one field assistant. So, they are unable to cover a lot of ground. This lack of supervision has become a blessing to illegal sand miners.

1 Comment for “Environment Raped As Sand-Mining Continues”

  1. Mahen

    These stupid politicians don’t seem to realise that they are raping the slow sand filters that purify our river water resources. In a country where we are now cursed with kidney failure due to ingestion of polluted water, these sand filters are life saving natural barriers.
    Can someone educate these fools that soon they too will be afflicted with Kidney failure if they finish off these sand filters.

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