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Meet the Tamil Nadu Man Relentlessly Fighting the Sand Mafia for Over 20 Years!

From fielding anonymous threats to being attacked, Mugilan is not afraid of ruffling feathers in order to fight for the truth.

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In 1995, a young schoolgirl in Erode, Tamil Nadu, went to the river to take a bath. She came out with burns all across her skin.

It was then that S Mugilan, who was an engineer in the state Public Works Department (PWD) at the time, decided that he wanted to do something about the horrific incident. He went about collecting over 1 lakh signatures from those living in Erode, calling for justice for the young girl. He also helped organise a massive protest against the textile-dyeing factory that had been responsible for the incident. And at the end of it all, authorities finally addressed the the righteous anger of the protesters and shut down the factory that had been responsible for this girl’s accident.

While it was a hard-fought victory for Mugilan, it was also the first of the many encounters he would have fighting massive corporations that pollute the water bodies in Tamil Nadu – especially the sand miners who openly flout the law.

In Tamil Nadu, the coastline stretches across 1,076km. Thus sand mining is a highly lucrative business and there are those willing to do anything, even if it’s illegal to keep the business going.

That’s where Mugilan, the activist, comes in.

Image for representation. Photo source: Twitter

Despite the many threats he has encountered as a result of his activism, he has never stopped fighting for what he thinks is right. “In the span of just 30 years, sand miners have mined sand that should have taken them over 100 years to do. The government has set the law and there are rules in place but they might as well not exist.” he rues.

As the very least, Mugilan hopes that his activism acts as a catalyst for the government to set down harsher rules and penalties for those flouting the law.


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He also wants the authorities to install more surveillance cameras in order to catch illegal activities.

Image for representation. Photo source: Twitter

Sand plays a crucial role in the ecosystem of a river. Excessive sand mining can cause the degradation of rivers, it is important for ground water recharge and also affects the ecology. Manoj Misra of the NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan once noted, “There are a lot of micro-organisms that are not visible and widely known, but are critical to soil structure and fertility. When we dredge sand, we literally take away their habitat.”


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For Mugilan, it becomes even more important to make people aware of such atrocities and continue fighting against corporations that are mining illegally. He lives by a simple philosophy – to serve society. “If you are among the few who knows the truth about something, then it becomes your duty to educate society about it. You can’t be afraid. You can’t afford to take a break.”

And while standing up to the sand mining mafia is what he is known for the most, he is often organising protests and educating people on a number of issues. In 2008, he along with few a friend of his friends were attacked in the dead of the night when they were returning from a protest against a paper factory that had supposedly polluted land in the state. He also organised a large-scale protest against a nuclear power-plant and shut down a factory manufacturing soft drinks.

To this day, his wife has to field calls from anonymous people who threaten their safety for the activism. But that’s not going to stop Mugilan or those who support him. And he is certainly not done in his war against the sand mafia. As long as he knows his truth, he will be at the front-line, protesting.

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