Camera: Syed Shiyaz Mirza
Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
The residents of Alappad, a tiny coastal village in Kerala’s Kollam district, are furious. For over 100 days now, residents have been protesting to ‘Save Alappad’ from disappearing.
A Litho map of 1955 shows that Alappad covered an area of 89 square km. Today, over six decades later, the village covers an area of just 7 square km. People who have resided in the village for years blame rampant mining for this rapid erosion of land.
Alappad is sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and an inland lake. People believe that if action is not taken soon, land might merge with water bodies and the village will cease to exist.
Sitting in a tent in the heart of the village, 75-year-old K Chandra Das is leading the fight.
“Our experiences have made us understand that our land has shrunk due to mining activities alone, no matter what others say.”K Chandra Das, Chairman, Save Alappad Protest Committee
“We have lost all means of livelihood. There are places in Alappad where the distance between the sea and land is just 30 metres. If the sea gets rough or the level goes up, the sea and the lake will become one. If this happens, the Alappad panchayat won’t exist. It will become a part of the sea.”Cibi Boney, Ward Member, Alappad Panchayat
Won’t Stop Mining: Kerala Government
There are two PSUs that have permission to mine in the area – the Indian Rare Earth Ltd that is owned by the Central government and the state’s Kerala State Metals and Minerals Ltd. While protesters claim that mining in the area is illegal, the Kerala government has made strong statements that mining will continue in the area and that they have the required environment clearances.
The matter is now being heard by the Kerala High Court.
“The mining companies do not have permission from the Pollution Control Board to continue their activities. Actually, they are undertaking an illegal activity. They are saying they have the support, but they don’t.”KV Pillai, Activist, Save Alappad
Speaking to the media on 5 February, state Industries Minister EP Jayarajan said that the government has no plans to stop mining in the area, reported The New Indian Express.
“Mineral sand is to Alappad what petroleum to the Gulf countries. The state can earn crores of rupees from it and our economy will be strengthened. There are huge deposits of minerals in the coastal line from Neendakara to Kayamkulam. It’s the state’s fortune. Besides, the mining is being undertaken by the state and central public sector companies. So the opposition to the mining can be seen as an attempt to sabotage the state’s industrial growth.”E Jayarajan, Industries Minister, as told to The New Indian Express
Role of Social Media in Making The ‘Ignored’ Movement Mainstream
While the protests to ban mining in the area have been on and off since the 1970s, the residents of Alappad have been on an indefinite sit-in protest from November last year.
But the movement was largely ignored from both within Kerala and outside. It was finally noticed after a 17-year-old schoolgirl Kavya posted a video on the social media platform Tik Tok.
“It has been many years since this problem began. I got to know only recently. No media, mainstream or social talked about it. No one knew outside knew about it. No one came to help us or support us. So when we started the #SaveAlappad hashtag on social media, no one tried to open it or even understand it. But I thought if I make a video, social media might pick it up. Never though it work this well.”Kavya, Save Alappad Activist
Her video went viral, and brought the issue to the fore, prompting the National Green Tribunal and even Mollywood actors to take notice.
Some protesters have claimed that the movement has grown from being an Alappad-based topic to an issue involving the entire state.
Residents Wants Nothing But Complete Ban
Residents are relentless in their fight. They have refused to call off their protests and are prepared to take the legal route to save their hamlet. They are determined not to settle – even for a partial ban on mining.
“The demand is not to partly halt mining. The protest group wants a complete halt on the mining activity. All the problems of Alappad are on the demand list – reclaiming lost land, the sea-washed coasts should come back. All these are our needs. Stop mining.”Cibi Boney, Ward Member, Alappad Panchayat
Villagers also stress that about 25,000 people should not have to relocate because the government is worried about the jobs of a thousand employees who are working in factories.
“If 1,000 people are going to lose their jobs, proper rehabilitation can take place and the government can stop the mining. It’s not like the sky will fall if mining is stopped.”KV Pillai, Save Alappad Activist