Unsustainable sand mining from riverbeds can have huge social, environmental, geomorphic and disastrous impacts for rivers. In this three part report, SANDRP is trying to provide a picture of what happened on this issue in 2015 in India.
This first part looks into 2015 putting together instances of illegal sand mining that occurred throughout the year in different Indian States. The successive blogs would make an attempt to cover all governmental measures and judicial interventions taken in 2015 to reign in uncontrolled extraction of this possibly most consumed natural resource after air and water.
Illegal mining of sand is profoundly linked to growth in construction industry that have accelerated in recent decades. Since then demand for this mineral is only going up. Today possibly there is not a single river in the country that is not ruined by sand mining. As a result, while the state of rivers has gone worse, the number of violent instances around illegal sand mining is on the increase.
Like the previous year, 2015 only saw an escalation in numbers of violent clashes between mining operators and law enforcing agencies. A State wise description of some of the illegal sand mining happenings that took place in 2015 is given here.
Madhya Pradesh(MP) The State has become known for its mining-related incidents, which include the murder of honest police officials in recent times. One of the first such incident this year was registered in April 2015 when a truck carrying illegally mined sand mowed down Dharmendra Chouhan a 40 years old police constable posted at Noorabad police station in Morena district. Earlier in March 2012 an IPS Officer Narendra Kumar was also crushed to death by sand mafia in same district while he was conducting a raid on illegal sand mining. On 4 June, 2015, a woman inspector Reena Pathak including 8 home guard jawans were attacked by sand mafia when they were inspecting illegal excavation of sand from Nevaj river near Banka Khedi village in Shajapur and Ratlam districts. Sand smugglers had reportedly also attacked three ‘patwaris’ (revenue officials) a night before near village Nerukhedi. The officials were trying to stop illegal mining of sand from Chambal River. In the same month, in most tragic incident body of Sandeep Kothari, a MP based journalist was found burnt to death in Nagpur Maharashtra. The journalist used to write against illegal sand mining activities frequently and ultimate had to pay the price with his life. In August 2015, wildlife experts opposed MP Govt. move to allow sand in Chambal Ghariyal sanctuaries. Rampant Sand mining in Chambal sanctuary had adversely affected the habitat of gharials. Experts say that miners ran mining vehicles over the unhatched eggs of Ghariyal and Turtles laid in sandy banks.
Injured MP Police officials while taking against illegal sand mining (Pics source India TV News)
The case of Narmada valley was even more tragic where State Govt. in open violation of norms was illegally allowing mining in Sardar Sarovar Project affected area which was under Narmada Valley Development Authority a State agency. According news reports creation of dams on River Narmada was actually facilitating the illegal sand mining activity. The situation was so bad that villagers were unable in accessing the river area. Even authorized miners were found breaking stipulated norms in Badgaon and Saatdev villages in Sehore district, the native place of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Remarkably in 2013 Pahanbarri a village in Hoshangabad was totally destroyed by flood due to excessive illegal sand mining. In December 2015, Namarda Bachao Andolan activists alleged that Govt. has allowed mining in 5 lakh hectares which it was supposed to protect. They alleged that mining is also allowed in Narmada catchment area which needs to be protected for longer life of the reservoirs.
Uttarakhand (UK) Mining operators have shown utter disregard even to Ganga the national river of India in the State. In April 2015 there were reports of illegal sand mining activities going on unabated at Haridwar in violation of National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders. Earlier Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) has also found illegal mining of sand, quaterz boulders going on at massive level in Haridwar district. NDTV, a leading media house claimed that corruption of crores of rupees was taking place in mining of river. Matri Sadan’s questions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act also revealed that there were no document to show that who were given mining contract worth Rs. 200 crore and where all the mineral had gone. In May 2015, Jai Prakash Badoni, an activist approached High Court (HC) UK alleging that behind the pretext of Disaster Management Act 2005 which allows removal of accumulated river bed material to prevent flooding, sand mining was rampant at different sites in Haridwar. The Central Govt. in September 2015 gave in-principle nod to quarrying in Ganga and eight of its tributaries in the state after repeated request from UK Govt.
Earlier in 2011, the UK Govt. had enforced a ban on sand mining in Haridwar, calling it a sacred region. Environmentalists have also raised concerns over unabated quarrying leading to extinction of aquatic eco-system. According reports there were at least 60 huge stone crushers active in the area which procured a constant supply of stones from Ganga River. In 2015 Swami Shivanand initiated fast unto death twice against the illegal mining in Ganga. Remarkably in June 2011, Swami Nigmanand on fast for 72 days to highlight illegal mining was allegedly poisoned to death in the same district.
Uttar Pradesh (UP) The illegal mining became worse once River Ganga entered Bijnor in UP. In July 2015 a dozen villages held Panchayat to stop sand mining in the districts. Villagers complained that due to mining River Ganga was changing its course and moving towards the inhabited areas. Surprisingly police lodged FIR against eight villagers for pelting stones at the contractor’s machines. Later a farmers’ body also alleged that cops were arresting innocent farmers instead of sand mafia. In October 2015 there were many reports of rampant illegal sand extraction at Narora, Ahar, Ram and Karanvas Ghat in Bijnor district now being carried out through nights. Illegal sand mining was happening at such a big scale that a delegation led by Bijnor Lok Sabha member requested Union Minister of Water Resources, Ganga Rejuvenation and River Development Uma Bharti for immediate intervention in the matter. Following this the minister wrote to MoEF&CC pitching for a joint probe to inquire into unauthorized mining leading to change in river hydrology. In August 2015 a Comptroller & Auditro General report also found illegal mining of minerals including sand to be going on in UP in violation of mining plan and Environment Act.
National Capital Regions (NCR) Sand mining also happened on massive scale in Greater Noida, Noida (UP) and Faridabad, Palwal in Haryana (HR). In October 2015 the operators even built a bridge on River Yamuna as a link between Noida and Faridabad to facilitate sand mining. Reportedly it was the third bridge being built in the area to mine sand from the Noida floodplains and transport it to HR. In September 2015 on a brief visit to area SANDRP team found several patches of Yamuna riverbed ravaged by sand extraction carried out during nights. Villagers also reported that the operators were powerful and enjoyed full political support. Remarkably in July 2013 Durga Shakti Nagpal an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official had conducted several raids on such operators. The officer was ultimately suspended and transferred. Barely three days after her transfer, 52 year old Pale Ram Chauhan, a vocal activist working against illegal mining was allegedly shot dead in Raipur village in Noida. In another case, a 60 year old farmer Vijay Pal Nagar of Noida was attacked twice for lodging complains against illegal extraction of sand. In the same year, a MoEF& CC team having visited the area, reported that illegal mining continued discretely in Greater Noida. The report also mentioned that the mafia had even created deep pools in riverbed and diverted Yamuna River for the smooth extraction of sand.
Mining ravaged Yamuna river bed in Noida in September 2015
The operators grew so fearless that it even did not refrain from attacking Govt. officials. In one such incident sand mafia went on to attack a police team near Rajpur Phulera village in Faridabad,HR last year. The incident took place while the police team was carrying out inspection against illegal sand mining in the area. Five police men including one woman were injured in the attack.
Haryana Despite a ban illegal sand mining was widespread in Yamuna river through Yamuna Nagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonipat districts HR. Similarly adjoining districts of UP like Saharanpur, Muzzafar Nagar, Shamli and Baghpat were also found involved in mining sand illegally. In August 2015 deeply affected Karnal villagers formed a vigilant team to protect 52 acres of Panchayat land from illegal sand mining after they found local police to be ineffective.
Maharashtra (MH) The situation was no better in Maharashtra where sand mafia blew away reservoir weir of the Nira river using explosives in May 2015. The incident occurred during wee hours in Baramati taluka’s Kambleshwar. Locals reported of similar attempt made by mafia about eight days before the incident. In another incident the mafia tries to mow down revenue officials by running over a tractor on them when they attempted to intercept it at Mankeshwar village in the east MH district during night.
Karnataka The death of DK Ravi, an IAS officer on March 16, 2015 was allegedly linked to his efforts to restrict illegal sand mining in the state. The 2009 batch officer was famous for his strong stand against the illegal sand and land mafia. A July 2015 report also highlighted that the State mined 4 lakh tonnes of sand in just three months from March to June 2015 from riverbeds within the Coastal Regulation Zone in Dakshina Kannada. The same amount of sand earlier was extracted in 11 months. The report also mentioned that the sand was also being illegally transported to neighboring Kerala where sand extraction was banned.
Jammu & Kashmir Even the hilly states were found affected by illegal sand mining. According to this October 2015 news report, illegal sand mining in Tawi River had caused looses of crores of rupees to State Govt. The report further mention that the mining was happening right under the nose of the Govt. and concerned agency was taking no action against it.
Andhra Pradesh D Vanjakshi, a lady Tehsildar of Musunuru was assaulted by Prabhakara Rao, the area MLA for objecting to illegal sand mining activity In July 2015. One more report in August 2015 reported that excess excavation of sand was posing a threat to under-construction bridge on the Nagavali river.
The official addressing media after the attack (Pics source The New Indian Express)
Chhattisgarh In March 2015 a news report mentioned of rampant illegal mining on Panchayat land in Gariyaband district in Chhattisgarh. Rajim Nagar villagers reported that mafia was active during nights for the last six months and administration took no action despite several complains.
Kerala Despite a ban by NGT, illegal mining of sand was reportedly happening at huge scale in Kerala. This April 2015 report further said that all the 44 rivers were badly affected by mining menace in the State. Locals alleged that the police was letting the miners scot free after taking bribes.
Punjab The mafia was so restless in the State that in September 2015 it started digging common village ponds when Sutlej was in flood in monsoon. They even began persuading farmers to allow them to dig sand from their lands way beyond the permissible limit of 4 ft.
Rajasthan In December 2015 Police team from Alwar found illegal mining taking place in Kundali River. The police could arrest only a few while many other involved in the activity managed flee the spot.
Telangana T Harish Rao, mining minister in March 2015 while replying to a question in State Assembly accepted that large scale illegal sand mining in Godavari, Majeera and Maneru rivers was leading to continual decline of ground water table in Telangana.
Tamil Nadu A report in July 2015 warned that sand mining had become a threat to fish species in Western Ghat.
Thus the Year 2015 saw no respite in the cases of illegal sand mining activity. The operators continued to brazenly rob the rivers of essential ingredient and attacked the Govt. officials striking terror in the heart of common man.
Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For second part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015 (II) Government acts of omissons & commissions
For third part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015-III-Judicial Actions