Sand mafia gnaws out 'craters' on Raigad's shiny beaches, activists fume

by IANS |

Raigad, June 5 (IANS) Scores of bullock-carts brazenly cart out hundreds of tons of sand illegally mined from the picturesque beaches here leading to big and smaller "craters" that cause a hazard to people and animals, a leading activist said here on Monday.

Awaaz Foundation founder Sumaira Abdulali has highlighted the problem of rampant, illicit sand-mining that is gnawing away at the Kihim and Awas beaches - popular with tourists, and the playground of nearly a 1,000-odd rich and mighty with their big and small luxury nests dotting the beaches and hills here.

Inspecting the beaches in May-end, Abdulali made a shocking discovery - vast tracts of the beach resemble a 'lunar surface', a veritable graveyard of big and small craters, some more than 6 feet deep at various points.

"Even now many bullock-carts daily ferry tons of the beach sand, causing environmental havoc, and felling many trees in the area. I have been campaigning against the sand-mafias for the past nearly 20 years, but the situation remains unchanged," rued Abdulali.

On the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), she has shot off a letter to Raigad Collector Yogesh Mhase drawing his attention to the degradation of the local environment with disastrous implications for the future.

Surviving an attack by the sand mafiosi in 2004, Abdulali acknowledges that the police and district government do take action periodically, "but after the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the mining activity has resumed aggressively and spread to larger areas on the beaches".

On May 26, the Kihim Talathi V. Shigade joined Abdulali to scour the beaches, they took photos/videos of the ongoing degradation and witnessed the bullock-carts in action in the sandy tracts.

She pointed out how many coconut, palm, mango and other evergreen trees have been uprooted and crashed over the past few years owing to soil erosion of the land where they stood.

"In fact, the depth of the beach itself has fallen by over 12 feet in some spots, trees can be seen hanging precariously on their visible roots, further escalating the risks here," Abdulali informed the Collector.

NRI from USA Ketan R. Kakkad - who owns a property in Raigad - said that a similar 'rape of nature' is going on in other parts of the eco-sensitive region with bulldozing of trees, dynamiting a local dam and other forms of degradation in and around the Waje-Wajapur village hills where many VIPs reside, and "with full knowledge of the local authorities".

Local activist Adv. Surendra Dhavale feels that another big issue here is the haphazard development activities, on the entire 50-kms long, alluring sandy strip between Alibaug and Murud, flattening entire forested hills or mountains, allegedly to build huge bungalows or mansions for the country's billionaires, corporate honchos, Bollywood biggies, diamantaires, NRIs and others, some allegedly even having private helipads.

Abdulali added that the mafia has become so bold that they have "built" a path to link the Kihim-Awas beaches with the rocks from the local creek which divided the two beaches and are openly "reclaiming" the beach to facilitate their unauthorised activities.

"This has led to an increase in the land on the Awas Beach side and erosion on the Kihim Beach side, the bullock carts ply from Awas to mine the sand from Kihim, going as far as the Kihim Village Panchayat jurisdiction which has banned all sand-mining activities," said Abdulali.

She has demanded ordering a full scale investigation into the ongoing broad daylight sand-smuggling thriving under the noses of the Collectorate and police to save the beautiful beaches - before it's too late...

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