People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 34

August 25 , 2013


Loot of Mineral Rich Sands Reaches Tamilnadu

S P Rajendran

AFTER the granite scam worth thousands of crores of rupees, now a mega mineral scam has got exposed in Tamilnadu. This time the value of the looted sand minerals is said to be nearly Rs one lakh crore. Moreover, years of illegal sand mining has taken its toll in the entire mineral rich southern coastal region.


India has been blessed with some of the world’s best deposits of minerals like titanium ores. Endowed with a coastline of over 6,000 km, India has some of the largest and richest shoreline placers. According to a study by the Department of Atomic Energy, the beaches and dune sands in India contain heavy minerals (HMs) like ilmenite, rutile, garnet, zircon, monazite and sillimanite. A combination of favourable factors (like the hinterland geology, coastal geomorphology, subtropical to tropical climate, and intricate network of drainage, aided by coastal winds, waves and currents) has influenced the formation of these beaches and adjoining dune sands. The heavy mineral assemblage varies widely from nearly mono-mineral ones near Ratnagiri (Maharashtra) to multi-mineral sites elsewhere.

Ilmenite-rich major sand deposits are there in coastal stretches of Kerala (Chavara), Tamilnadu (Manavalakurichi, Midalam, Vayakallur), Andhra Pradesh (Kakinada, Pentakota, Bhimunipatnam, Konada-Kandivalasa-Mukumpeta-Bendicreek-Donkuru), Odisha (Sanaeka-Sangi-Gopalpur, Chatrapur, Bajarkot, Satpara and Puri) and Maharashtra (Kalbadevi, Newre and Malgund). Rich concentration of almandine-rich garnet (up to 31 per cent in raw sand) is there in the 68 km stretch of Navaladi-Periathalai, south of Tiruchendur in Tamilnadu. The red Teri inland sands occurring in coastal plains of southern Tamilnadu contain large tonnage of heavy minerals, up to 10 per cent, over vast tracts. Indian ilmenite commonly contains 50 to 65 per cent titanium oxide and is used in various processes. Zircon, monazite and sillimanite are ubiquitous in the red Teri sands on beaches and inland.

The said study of heavy mineral deposits in the beaches and dunes in the 508 km long coastal stretch of the central and southern Tamilnadu, and the red Teri sands of the southern coastal plains, revealed high concentration of heavy minerals --- most commonly from the surface down to a depth of nine metres. The heavy mineral assemblage in the beaches consists predominantly of ilmenite, garnet, sillimanite, pyroxenes, amphiboles, zircon, rutile, monazite and kyanite, and of spinel, tourmaline, epidote, apatite, staurolite etc at a few places. Concentration levels of heavy minerals in different beach segments show wide variations.

Thus, the heavy mineral suite in the beach and dune deposits is: (a) ilmenite-dominant in the southern-most Manavalakurichi sector, (b) almandine garnet-rich in Ovari sector, (c) a mixed association of ilmenite, garnet and pyriboles in Thoothukudi sector, and (d) pyriboles abundant in the northernmost Velanganni-Cuddalore sector and beyond. The coastal Teri sands have concentrations of 6 to 13 per cent by weight, with ilmenite, leucoxene and rutile constituting about 75 per cent of the total. Garnet is nearly absent.

The Teri sands account for nearly 83 per cent of the resources of placer minerals identified so far in Tamilnadu. The beach sands of Ovari sector contain 3.2 million tonnes of garnet of an average grade of 10.7 per cent. Zircon, monazite and sillimanite are ubiquitous in the Teri sands on beaches and inland.


These enormous resources which are public property are being looted without any hurdle by the sand mafias over the years. In particular the V V Minerals owned by Vaigundarajan, a big businessman in Thoothukudi district, is quarrying through all the beaches of Thoothukudi, Thirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts and shipping off the mineral rich sands via the international port of Thoothukudi.

According to a complaint letter to the chief secretary of Tamilnadu from G Ramakrishnan, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), more than 15 lakh tonnes of sand minerals, illegally quarried along the southern coast, were exported via Thoothukudi port by private mineral companies between 2006-07 and 2012-13. The CPI(M) has alleged that the administration sanctioned permits to quarry the mineral rich sand from nearly 100 places. Most of the permits were given to one or two big private companies at minimal licence fees.

Response to a right to information (RTI) query shows that V V Minerals enjoyed 100 per cent monopoly in ilmenite mining and also had a giant share in garnet mining. Both are favourite exports.

Recently accessed by a private news channel, a letter written by the first district collector of undivided Tirunelveli, V Sundaram, to the chief secretary of the state in January 2013, accused the V V Minerals of illegal mining worth over Rs 96,000 crore. The letter also accused government departments of favouring the V V Minerals, saying the mining lease was given to them within 72 days, while the other companies are still waiting for permission. "V V Minerals owner Vaikundarajan knows every inch of the area and he has resorted to large scale illegal mining with the connivance of all departmental officials. All functionaries of nodal departments of GoI and nodal mines department in Tamilnadu have all been singing, dancing and collecting bribes together," said Mr Sundaram.

In this background, two special inspection teams conducted raids on August 6 at the sand quarry of V V Minerals and found large-scale illegal sand mining along the beach stretches in Vaipar, Vembar, Periyasamipuram and in the surrounding Vilathikulam taluk in Thoothukudi district.

After the raids, district collector Ashish Kumar said on August 7 that around 81,000 cubic metres of raw sand had been mined illegally in more than 30 hectares of land in Vaipar whereas miners were legally entitled to mine only on four hectares of leased land. The mined beach sand contained an estimated 2,30,000 tonnes of the minerals. The offence could attract punishment on charges of theft under IPC, provisions of the Tamilnadu 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. The fishermen voiced the fear of sea erosion and environmental hazards owing to indiscriminate mining on 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 Periyathaalai coast. Illegal mining of 4.91 lakh cubic metres of raw sand and minerals weighing 2.82 lakh tonnes from the mined property was detected. Such illegal operations were on in 26 sand quarries in Tirunelveli district and some in Kanyakumari district also.


Meanwhile, the district collector Ashish Kumar was transferred, with a section of the media reporting that he was transferred after he took action against illegal sand mining in the area. But it was the CPI(M) which exposed the reality. Some officials including the collector of Thoothukudi had permitted the V V Minerals to quarry the beach sands wherever they want, in exchange of briberies and valuable gifts, alleged K Kanagaraj, a member of CPI(M) state secretariat, and K S Arjunan, its district secretary in Thoothukudi. The collector took action only when confronted with the company’s adamant attitude and under the pressure of the fishing community. Even after the raids, however, no FIR was registered against the mineral thieves.

This episode drew attention to the illegal mining of sand minerals. The state government then decided to form a special team to check the illegal beach sand and mineral mining in Thoothukudi district.

In an order dated August 8, the government said revenue secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi would head an investigation team with officials from the revenue, environment and forests, and geology and mining departments, and check if any of the lease holders had illegally mined garnet, illmenite and rutile in beach sands in the district. The team was to complete its investigation in a one month and submit a report. Till then, mining operations would remain suspended.


The first round of inspections by the special team commenced on August 12 and concluded on August 14. The team interacted with the coastal populace during the inspection. The Thoothukudi district committee of the CPI(M) submitted a detailed letter to the team, explaining the dynamics of the illegal sand mining and the dangers it poses for the fishing community as well as the ecology of entire southern coastal region. The party demanded that the investigation must be extended to the adjoining Thirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts.

Meanwhile more than 20,000 fishermen of Thoothukudi district struck work en masse in protest against the illegal quarrying. Fishermen from adjoining Tirunelveli district, where illegal mining was allegedly more rampant, also joined the strike. "We have been witnessing the plunder of natural wealth for more than 10 years. But how can we raise our voices against the powerful mining companies? They have openly threatened us that our complaints would just be ignored. The state government should completely ban beach sand mining in all coastal districts.” said the fishermen.