Friday, March 19, 2010

Kerala: Sand from the lakes

Early last month Kerala received shipment of a rare kind. The vessel called at Cochin first and unloaded half the cargo. Then it sailed on to Quilon to discharge the balance. The Captain was welcomed with flowers.

Can you guess what the ship carried? It was not rice.

Well, it was plain sand to be used for construction. Kerala’s building industry was facing an acute shortage of quality sand to be mixed with cement. Almost all the known supply sources within the State were exhausted. Mining was done even in areas where it was prohibited. Price of sand shot up. Smuggling and black-market soon developed.

The dreams of many people to build homes were on hold. Among them was Kerala Government’s Rs.10000 crores (100,000 millions) construction projects specifically aimed at tackling the economic slowdown. Why this scheme was chosen to revive the economy when sand was already in short supply is not clear to me. But the Finance Minister received a lot of kudos from his friends. Not much significance was given to the fact that the scheme really did not take off.

Anyway, the import of sand was an effective idea. Some negative minds might have worried about obtaining sand from other states bringing in its wake ‘sons of the soil’ demands. But this consignment was from Gujarat and not Maharashtra. Gujaratis and Keralites have been friends for centuries.

Perhaps from the start of the Christian Era.many Gujaratis lived in Kerala for trade, mainly in spices. There is even a claim that Vasco Da Gama was guided by a Gujarati during his visit to Kerala in 1498 CE. The areas where they settled were the trading centres, Calicut, Cochin and Alleppey. Hundreds of Gujarati families still live in the first two cities mentioned. As the commercial importance of Alleppey faded the Gujaratis who lived in that port town moved away.

But can Kerala continue to get sand from Gujaral which is ruled by the controversial BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi? This doubt arises because of what happened to the proposal to make the Hindi actor Amitab Bachchan Kerala’s brand ambassador for tourism. The tourism minister of Kerala is a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI (M). But after Big B was invited formally to promote Kerala, another PB Member, Sitaram Yechuri said no. The reason is that Bachchan is also Brand Ambassador for Gujarat.

Anyway, Kerala is God’s own country. It survives in spite of its governments. Someone has thought of silted sand in the State’s many lakes and dams. These deposits can meet the requirements of the construction industry for quite sometime. Removing it will also increase the capacity of the reservoirs.

The work has already started. The first lot recovered from the lakes has been auctioned off. It fetched a price double that of what was anticipated. Estimates claim that this year the income to the government from this source would be rupees 300 to 400 crores.

Viva Kerala! (That is also the name of a football team which is doing better in the national circuit this year.)


perumalythoma said...

But isn't dredging lakes illegal?

Unknown said...

perumalythoma, I am not sure about this. The harbors like Cochin regularly dredge to maintain/increase the draft.

Even if there is some technical problem in using the word 'dredging' where lakes are concerned, the process can be called cleaning or maintaining the original storage capacity.