The Vigilance Special Court in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday ordered a vigilance inquiry into the charges of corruption levelled by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala in the mining of sand accumulated along the banks of the Pamba.
Earlier, in June, Chennithala had approached the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau director seeking a probe into what he termed the loot of public sand at Pamba. But the demand was rejected by the government.
Now, causing serious embarrassment to the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the court has asked the Vigilance to take up the case.
In his petition to the Vigilance Court, Chennithala had alleged that the contract given to a nearly defunct Kannur-based public sector unit Kerala Clays and Ceramic Products, a Kannur-based public sector entity headed by CPM leader T K Govindan, to mine and transport river sand from Triveni at Pamba was merely a ruse to hand over the costly sand virtually free to a private party. Accumulated along the banks of Pamba was the sand that got dumped in the river bed during the 2018 and 2019 floods. Since it was felt that the sand deposits shrunk the depth of the river and blocked its flow, it was dredged and accumulated along the sides.
Chennithala said the government had used flood preparedness as a cover to violate Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and in the process wanted a private agency to profit from of the sale of public sand. He said that more than 1.25 lakh TMC (thousand million cubics) feet of sand had accumulated at Pampa-Triveni following the floods in 2018 and 2019.
The Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change had issued an order in February last allowing only one-time transfer of sand from Pampa-Triveni. Chennithala said 20,000 cubic metres was allotted to the Travancore Devaswom Board for undertaking construction at Pampa and Sannidhanam, 15,000 cubic metres was cleared for sales through retail sales and 55,000 cubic metres for sales through e-auction platform.
Last May, the Forest Department also had plans to e-auction the Pamba sand. The e-auction was supposed to be held on four days in May 2019. The sand was to be auctioned in lots of 1,000-metre cube each. On each of the days, 55 lots or 55,000-metre cube of sand was to be e-auctioned. It was also said proceeds from the sale would go into the Rebuild Kerala Initiative.
The auction was scheduled to be carried out through the e-commerce site of the Centre's Metal and Scrap Trading Corporation (MSTC). National Centre for Earth Science has certified the sand as suitable for construction and landscaping.
But no steps were taken to secure money from the sale of sand. Chennithala's argument is that the government did not act so that it could later ask Kerala Clays to remove the sand quickly in the name of flood prevention.
Chennithala also said that Pathanamthitta district collector P B Nooh's decision to grant permission to Kerala Clays and Ceramic Products to remove 12,8193 cubic metres of sand and silt was a violation of the standing orders issued by the MoEF.
The Forest Department, too, had objected to the removal of the sand saying that the area belonged to it. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan dismissed the claim saying the Disaster Management Authority under the District Collector had the right to remove the sand.
The Chief Minister had sought to give the impression that the sand was only being removed in view of the impending monsoon. As it turned out, even Kerala Clays refused to lift the sand after it was known that they were barred from selling the sand, a clear indication that the earlier understanding was that the sand could be sold.