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Ship load of sand from Malaysia stuck at Tuticorin port

When fifty five thousand tons of sand arrived in Tuticorin port last week from Malaysia, there was a sigh of relief in the Construction industry in Tamil Nadu as the State has been starved of the critical construction material following  restrictions imposed on sand mining by the Tamil Nadu government. But the relief was short lived when Tuticorin district administration, quoting rules has banned the movement of sand from the port.

The sand importer has since approached the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court seeking remedy from the district administration and the court has issued notice to the collectors of Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari to file their counters before November six.

The restrictions on sale of sand in the state came into force last year when the sand mafia ripped the riverbeds and made it a flourishing industry. Following protests from environmental activists, the state government clamped ban on illegal quarrying of sand and imposed restrictions on movement of sand.

When the state was facing an acute shortage of sand, the vessel Annathrothia arrived at the Tuticorin port in south Tamil Nadu carrying 55,445 tons of sand on October 21st. The consignment was imported from Malaysia by MRM Ramiah enterprises of Pudukottai. Value of the consignment is placed at Rs eight crores. Port sources said that the importer had paid customs duty to the tune of rs sixteen lakh for the consignment. Conflicting reports appeared in the media about the source of the sand. .

After the customs clearance at the Tuticorin port, the first sand consignment was sent to the Kerala capital Tiruvananthapuram in 57 lorrys. The revenue authorities of the state government stationed near the Kerala border seized the sand consignment on the ground that the transporter did not clearance from the district administration certifying the quality of the sand. The authorities also directed the Tuticorin port administration not to release the rest of the sand consignment kept in the Port.

Most of the sand quarries in the state have been closed down on environment grounds . With hardly nine of them working, the state is facing acute shortage of the construction material. The local government has recently taken over the distribution of sand and the material distributed on line.

It was under these circumstances sand imports from South East Asian countries like Cambodia Malaysia were considered a boon to the construction industry in the state. Construction industry sources in the state said Malaysian firms are interested in exporting sand to Tamil Nadu on a regular basis. The companies are quoting 23 to 25 US dollars per ton and they could supply up to two lakh tons of river sand per month.

A few years ago, a Coimbatore based firm imported 32,000 tons of river sand from Cambodia through Cochin port. The Plant quarantine Department of the Union government’s Agriculture Ministry based at Cochin Port insisted on quality check on the imported sand. The sand worth crores of rupees was impounded by the quarantine department for several months till the inspections could be carried out.

The issue was referred to the Kerala High Court by the importer. The Court however ruled that there was no need for quality check on imported sand. Thereafter the sand was allowed to taken out of the port for distribution to the construction industry.

In the case of sand impounded at Tuticorin, the port authorities acted on a letter from the District Collector asking them not to release sand from the port premises.

The district administration is understood to have invoked section 38C(1) of the Tamil Nadu Minor Mineral Concession rules 1959 which prohibited transport of sand without a valid transport permit issued by the Public works department. Sand also cannot be stocked without a valid license.

Construction industry in the state has welcomed the sand imports into the country and said this would go a long way to end acute shortage of the construction material. It will also help to curb illegal sand mining in the state.
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