For past many years, incidents of illegal river sand mining across the country are on the rise. Given its resultant and adverse impact on river system and dependent communities, various state and central governments continue to go through the motions of devising a mechanism for judicious excavation of this minor mineral. But there seems no will to achieve compliance. At the same the time, people and concerned groups affected by illegitimate riverbed mining practices are approaching judiciary seeking legal intervention to curb the unsustainable mining of the natural resource.
In this backdrop, continuing tracking of this issue (like in 2015) SANDRP is providing an overview of various aspects related abstraction of the finite grit material from the rivers through a three part blog series. The first part of the series presents description of the most of the illegal riverbed sand mining incidents that have taken place in different Indian States through the year 2016. The second part of the blog gives account of the measures taken by governments at States and Central level to check the pilferage of this natural resource. The third part will highlight on the legal interventions by respective courts including Honorable Supreme Court (SC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to regulate unscientific quarrying of riverbeds.
Uttarakhand On February 15, 2016, scores of sadhus in Haridwar sat on a relay hunger strike seeking removal of “extra” silt from the river Ganga complaining of riverbed turning shallower since 2013 flash floods thus hampering bathing practices of pilgrims in Haridwar. The stir invited the wrath of Matri Sadan the ashram that has been protesting against rampant illegal quarrying in Ganga. Swami Shivanand, head of the Ashram alleged that the sadhus were trying to help the mining mafias. On 07 March, several environmental groups protesting against the mining activities in Ganga came out in support of the ashram. They also alleged that state government had taken no strict action to stop mining.
In July 2016, Matri Sadan in a press release alleged that CM Harish Rawat was making efforts to legalize the unlawful extraction of minerals from Ganga and threatened to launch indefinite strike against the move. The press release also questioned the silence of main stream media on the issue. Ignoring the protest, on October 23, 2016 Central Government reportedly approved mining on Ganga River at Haridwar.
Continuing its fight against illegal Ganga sand mining, Marti Sadan on November 07, 2016 again alleged that the CM Harish Rawat was lending support to the stone crushers involved in the illegal Rs 300 crore mining business by not taking any action against them and the mining activity was being carried out in broad day light in Ganga.
Himachal Pradesh According to February 2016 reports the Solan district administration’s actions against illegal abstraction in Baddi industrial town hardly made any impact as mining was happening as usual severely damaging the Sarsa riverbed and Dasomajra areas. Tractor and utility vehicles owners and stone crushers were reported to be involved in the illegal activity. The report also mentioned that despite the police presence, recently miners managed to flee with quarry material-laden vehicles in Nalagarh area. According to report several such cases had happened in the past too when, illegal operators had attacked state government officials for being stopped from transporting mined material.
As per November 23, 2016 news report illegal quarrying was on the rise in the Sutlej River basin causing erosion and endangering several riverbank habitations. Local residents alleged that influential people were easily queering sand, whereas they had to seek permission for even for personal use. They also felt State Government actions following directions of the Shimla High Court (HC) were ineffective on ground and feared damage to their houses by Sutlej waters during floods. According report, the sand stone mafia was tampering with the natural course of the river by mining upto the depth of 50 to 100 feet.
Jammu & Kashmir Protesting against State Government order to immediate banning of mining activities at Athwajan and Pantha Chowk quarries, scores of stone quarry workers led by MLA of Sonwar, Muhammad Ashraf Mir, on December 03, 2016 took to Srinagar-Jammu highway at Athwajan and demanded that government should come up with alternates so that they could continue their business activities. They blamed that the government directive would affect the livelihood of thousands of people and government had no alternative plan for the affected people.
Meghalaya According to a November 1, 2016 report excessive “sand mining” had posed a major challenge even leading to change in course of rivers like Ringgi, Jinjiram and Ganol in West Garo Hills. However, state government decided to regulate the mining instead of ban as directed by NGT in 2012. Locals also complained of lackadaisical attitude of authorities and unchecked mining going on in absence of mining policy in the state.
GANGETIC AND TRANS GANGETIC PLAINS
Haryana On May 12, 2016 Mining Officer, Narnaul had a narrow escape when the mining mafia not only opened fire at him and accompanying staff, but also rammed a tractor-trailer into his official vehicle, probably to kill him.
According to a report in The Tribune on July 07-2016, private mining companies reportedly caused a revenue loss to the tune of Rs 7.56 crore to the state exchequer by not paying the stamp duty for registering their lease deeds to carry out mining activities in Mahendragarh district. It was also disclosed that lease deeds were also being registered on plain papers in Bhiwani, Panchkula, Yamuna Nagar and Sonepat districts.
Punjab According to a report dated March 25, 2016, people close to the ruling Akali Dal control both sand mining and stone crushing businesses in the state, the report provides details of modus operandi of sand and stone mining in Punjab.
Uttar Pradesh In Feb 2016 there were reports of illegal sand mining happening non-stop in close proximity of Hathini Kund Barrage (HKB) on River Yamuna in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The miners were reportedly ferrying sand through 4,000 trucks and 8,000 tractor trolleys thus roughly making a business of about Rs 6-7 crore a day. About 50 villages in the vicinity were reported to be badly affected by the activity as it has created pits as deep as 150 feet in the floodplain. The district administration though claimed it to be illegal but lamented absence of complaints to take actions.
According to other reports, BSP leader Haji Mohammad Iqbal Ahmed was the key person behind the mining menace. He reportedly used to run a small provisional store and went on to amass about Rs. 10,000 crore empire through illegal sand mining.
As per a petition filed in the SC, Mohammad Iqbal had made 111 bogus companies. Chief Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) had also probed both Iqbal and Babu Singh Kushwaha’s relatives for having links with the same companies in Delhi. Earlier, ED had also seized assets worth Rs 45 million of the accused.
Sources claimed that Iqbal had invested huge in mining business and in return made huge money. After consolidating his financial condition, he tried his hand at politics in 1995 and lost the first election on BSP ticket. All this while his mining business kept on rising.
In its March 2, 2016 blog SANDRP also reported that how unabated mining around HKB was leading to weakening of the barrage structure thus endangering the Delhi water supply. As per reports during 2010 flood the indiscriminate mining activity had led to collapse of famous Tajewala barrage which was located hardly 5 kilometers downstream of HKB.
The murders of people opposing the mining activity continued in 2016 also. Karun Mishra, bureau chief of a Hindi daily, became the first reported victim of the year. On February 13, 2016, the reporter was shot dead for publishing news highlighting illegal mining in Sultanpur district. State police on February 18, 2016 arrested five persons regarding the journalist’s murder.
According to The Times of India, March 03, 2016 report a substantial stretch of famous Manikarnika area, the great cremation ghat was facing serious threat of caving in. Experts feared that the ghat and associated structures could submerge in Ganga by 2020-25 in absence of corrective measure. The situation was reportedly created due to increasing deposition of sedimentation taking place along the right bank of river Ganga resulting in increased river flow velocities along its left bank the location of Manikarnika area. The sand mining was prohibited along the 7 km stretch of Ganga in Varanasi due to presence of tortoise sanctuary from the Ramnagar Fort to Rajghat.
On April 08, 2016 the NGT, while hearing a PIL filed by villager Phirey Ram sought a response from the UP Government on a plea seeking prohibition of alleged illegal sand mining near Narora atomic power station in Sambhal district. Surprisingly on May, 12, 2016, in his fresh petition, Phirey Ram alleged that on April 13, 2016, he was threatened to withdraw the plea allegedly by Personal Assistant of Gayatri Prajapati, Mining Minister, UP. The petition further alleged that “despite notices being issued to the UP Government by the tribunal, the sand mafias showing no fear of law were continuously and consistently carrying on the illegal mining on the banks of Ganga in Sambhal district.
On September 20, 2016, five policemen, including two sub-inspectors, suffered injuries when they were attacked by the sand mining mafia near Gandrau village along Yamuna bank in Shamli. The attackers also took away the vehicles which police had taken possession of.
On October 04, 2016 there was news that an alleged mining mafia accidentally shot himself while cleaning his own pistol. The suspect Sanjay, was a resident of Momnathal village, located along the bank of river Yamuna at Greater Noida and a number of cases of illegal sand mining were reported from this village. He was in jail twice on charges of illegal sand mining and smuggling.
According to a December 01, 2016 report Yamuna had shifted closer to Kambakshpur village located along Noida-Greater Noida Expressway on border of Haryana & UP. The river had also submerged some of the farms. Images from Google Earth also confirmed that the curvilinear river stretch along Kambakshpur village witnessed a significant lateral shift from the Haryana side towards UP since 2010. Environmentalists guessed rampant illegal sand mining, unchecked construction and large number of infrastructure projects on or near the banks of River as reasons behind gradual shift in river course.
Bihar In a tragic incident, on May 24, 2016 two children, identified as Ankit (12) and Anand (8) of Kalher village of Sherghati, in Gaya district drowned in a sand mining pit full of water. Angry villagers torched several vehicles, including four trucks, six dumpers, a tractor and a police jeep. On October 7, 2016 former Deputy-Chief Minister Sushil Modi claimed that illegal sand mining from Sone river and its trade was going on across a dozen districts in connivance of the mining and transport departments in violation of an NGT order banning such activities.
W-Bengal A July 11, 2016 The Hindustan Times report mentioned that all the 3 major river basins of the state the Bhagirathi-Hooghly basin, Damodar basin and Teesta basin were being threatened by illegal sand mining industry.
Rajasthan On February 08, 2016, mining mafia attacked the police team in Sawai Madhopur district. Following a tip, the police had seized truck carrying illegally mined sand. While asking them to surrender the miners hit police vehicle so strongly that it fell down in 50 feet deep gorge. The police personals escaped the fatal attack by jumping out of the vehicle in the nick of time.
Madhya Pradesh In the same month, a Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) was also attacked while taking action against illegal sand mining from Tapti river in Jainabad. The culprits tried to drown the SDM in the river while he was chasing them. On March 06, 2016 a 45-year-old forest guard was killed when a tractor-trolley loaded with illegally mined sand fell on him while he was trying to stop it at Raira area in Gwalior district. In a similar case, in April, 2015, Dharmedra Chauhan a police constable was run over by vehicle carrying illegally mined sand when he tried to stop it in Morena district, adjoining Gwalior. In same district, in 2012, IPS officer Narendra Kumar was killed by mining mafia.
Following the incident, Prerna Bindra in her article counting similar attacks and murders highlighted the negative impact of unabated mining in the National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, bordering Rajasthan, UP and MP. The report also mentioned that forest departments in all these three states were understaffed and inadequately equipped to guard against growing mining incidents along 435 km stretch of the river sanctuary. The report also stated that the annual loss government faced from illegal river sand mining was more than Rs 30,000 crore. According to another report, critically endangered gharials population was facing a major threat from the organized sand mafia.
On March 9, 2016, State Congress demanded a CBI inquiry into illegal mining and transportation of sand from the bed of Narmada river in Sehore and Hoshangabad districts. Party state general secretary Dipti Singh charged private companies involved in attacks on villagers, who tried to confront illegal miners.
Showing no fear of law, again, in the night of April 16, 2016 a reporter & camera person of a regional television channel, were attacked by the goons of sand contractors in Hoshangabad district. It was also alleged that mining officers were hand in gloves with mining contractors. There had been similar attacks on forest and administrative officials in the same region earlier also, but no credible action was taken by the govt. In 2014 also, four persons including a police constable were injured when sand mafia attacked a mining inspection team in the same district.
On June 03, 2016, a patwari was injured in an attack by unidentified persons while returning with tractors seized from illegal sand mine operators in a village in Jaora of Ratlam district. The incident took place when a team of officials headed by Jaora SDM Anup Singh reached Karankhedi village under Hatpipliya police station to check illegal sand mining taking place at Maleni River. The SDM was accompanying the tractors back to Lasudia village but was later spotted by some locals in a serious condition with broken ribs and bleeding profusely.
On July 24, 2016, illegal sand mining claimed one more life as a tractor trolley, allegedly engaged in transportation of illegally mined sand, hit a lady in Morena killing her on the spot. The tractor was being driven at a high speed probably because the driver had unloaded illegally mined sand and wanted to hurriedly cross over the check points to avoid arrest.
On November 08, 2016 protesting against illegal sand mining from Ken river in Chattarpur over 100 women held fast unto death at Barikheda village bordering UP and MP till the police persuaded them to give up the protest. According the report the mafia flexing muscles power was transporting over 1000 truckloads of sand to UP every day.
In another law defying act, on December 12, 2016, some unidentified persons who later were found associated with to sand mining mafia allegedly tried to burn alive at least five labourers engaged in transportation of sand from Son river. The incident occurred when five labourers were sleeping in their huts near the Son river. The private construction firm engaged in building the government medical college was issued licence to mine sand from the river which reportedly had affected the business interests of illegal miners.
Maharashtra On May 20, 2016 several activists raised alarm against illegal sand mining operations alleging that it had become rampant in various parts of Raigad districts under the cover of darkness and wreaking havoc on the coastal belt including a few beaches near Alibaug. They also alleged that mechanized tools were being used for sand mining at Mahad, Mhasala, Mandwa & also at Pirwadi in Uran, among other sites.
According to a July 21, 2016 report, some unidentified persons taking advantage of the heavy rain had been sucking up sand from the creek between Kharghar and Mansarovar railway stations in Navi Mumbai. Locals said that the illegal activity was destroying the mangroves.
In July 26, 2016 issue The Asian Age reported of large portion of mangroves and the natural flow of the Taloja river in Mumbai had fallen prey to illegal mining taking place in broad daylight. Locals also claimed that in absence of monitoring, there was no end to the malpractices affecting the river. The traditional fishermen, dependent on the river for their daily catch, pointed out that in spite of numerous complaints, neither government officials nor local police officers had taken any action to contain the sand mafia working in the belt.
On November 07, 2016 about 400 protesters including sand miners and villagers blocked both inbound and outbound traffic of NH-8 at the Old Khaniwade Toll Plaza for three hours. During the agitation, villagers from Virar demanded release of their boats seized as part of anti-sand mining drive; claiming they had `shared’ profits with officials. Only after the villagers were assured by the revenue department that their boats would not be turned into scrap immediately, did they agree to move out.
In October 2016, Palghar police, along with Revenue department officials, raided several illegal sand mining locations at Vaitarna, Khaniwade, Kanher and Chikhaldongri creeks and seized boats, suction pumps and other illegal mining equipment. In a tit-for-tat gesture after raid on October 13, 2016 the sand mafia released a “bribe rate card” which immediately went viral exposing the nexus. The sand smugglers also threatened to release the names of police and revenue department officials who had accepted bribes from them.
Mahad Tragedy Bringing new twist in Mahad bridge collapse accident, local activists on August 04, 2016, claimed that illegal sand mining eroded Savitri bridge foundation leading to the collapse of the bridge across the Savitri river near Mahad. They also said that there had been countless cases of illegal sand mining in and around the river going on for years. Accusing the local administration of being hand-in-glove with the powerful sand mafia, they said that no legal or punitive measures had been taken against the offenders nor was any attention paid to the bridge. After the Mahad bridge collapse environmentalists demanded that taluka officials & other government agencies implement stringent checks to ensure no illegal sand mining near four main bridges.
Similarly, Western Railway (WR) in August 2016 wrote to the state government that illegal sand mining posed a serious threat to two rail bridges over Vaitarna River and urged it to take urgent steps to stop dredging activities. WR authorities reportedly admitted that illegal sand mining was weakening Vaitarna rail bridge foundation. The Vaitarna bridge in Virar, built by the British, was the only rail bridge connecting the state to MP, Gujarat and north India, and was used by the Express trains. WR also added that there was a nexus between the sand mafia and certain state government departments. Due to the illegal sand mining, the flow of the Vaitarna had been altered, which was a dangerous sign for the bridge’s health.
Kalyan MP Dr Shrikant Shinde also, in a letter on August 07, 2016 asked the district collector Mahendra Kalyankar to take strict action against the active sand mafia. In the letter, Dr Shinde asserted that just like in the case of the Mahad bridge collapse, the ongoing sand dredging activities along the Mumbra-Kopar railway line was making the base of the bridges unstable. Contrary to this, State govt on August 08, 2016 ruled out the possibility that the Mahad bridge collapse incident was the fallout of sand mining in the Savitri river. An August 11, 2016 report also linked cracking and sagging of Narayangaon bridge near Bori village to excessive sand mining. Meanwhile, half a dozen heavy-duty pumps were found lying in Savitri riverbed proving illegal sand mining activities in the area. Villagers also reported about sand mafia throwing pumps into the river during raids.
Gujarat On July 07, 2016 a dispute over mining sand from Bhadar river between Ganod and Loath villages of Upleta town got violent leading to firing from a 12-bore gun and arrest of two persons on charges of attempt to murder. Several persons were booked for allegedly thrashing & trying to kill Mehram Bharai of Ganod village, who was transporting sand mined from the riverbed.
On August 18, 2016, a group of people involved in illegal sand mining bulldozed portions of nearly 20 houses belonging to the Dalit community in Miyani village of Morbi district. The situation turned tense in the village when the miscreants barged into the dalit vaas (separate locality of dalits) with an earth mover and a loader used in sand mining and started demolishing portions of the house. Locals said that the sand miners wanted to make a road through the residential area to directly reach the river there.
Similarly, residents of Moti Danti village in Navsari district on September 21, 2016 protested against local sand mafia who had been illegally mining sand from the sea shore. The residents of Moti Danti lodged a formal complaint with the police against unknown persons for illegally mining from the village shore.
Goa According a detailed story in The Wire, in October 2016, Wild Otters was making a comeback in the state. Among others rampant sand and iron ore mining and fragmentation of habitat led to gradual decline of this semi-amphibian mammal.
Karnataka In the month of February 2016, while water levels in Krishna and Cauvery reservoirs hit record low threatening drinking water supply to Bengaluru, power generation also came to a standstill at three units of the 1720 MW-capacity Raichur Thermal Power Station. Among other factors sand mining was cited responsible for depriving the power station of its water share.
On July 04, 2016, fishermen in Mangaluru claimed that unabated sand extraction in the last few years within the Coastal Regulatory Zone from the Netravathi and the Gurupura was causing Arabian Sea inching several meters into the mainland every year. According to experts, indiscriminate sand extraction to the tune of lakhs of tonnes every year was preventing strengthening of the beachfront.
As per First Post July 14, 2016 report, with the strangulation of rare earth supplies by China, India’s beach sand-mining industry was set to prosper under private sector. The report also mentioned that beside Government regulations there were several hurdles as the beach sand mining was a much misunderstood industry. A similar detailed investigative report in September 2016 while citing growing cases of illegal sand mining across India concluded that apart from regulation searching and developing substitutes to sand was need of the hour to deter its exploitative extraction. In her August 2016 Kanchi Kohli also explained the governance of the environment approvals for sand mining and other minor minerals.
On July 18, 2016, a dalit youth at Nidigere village in Sakleshpur taluk was hacked to death for informing police about illegal sand mining in Hemavathi river. Police arrested four persons and registered cases against 15 others including former zilla panchayat member D C Sannaswamy in connection with the murder. The victim, identified as Ajay Sakbal (27), a resident of the village, had informed the police control room about illegal sand mining and the presence of excavators and lorries on the river basin.
On August 01, 2016 an NGO released a 300 page document with sting video clippings on illegal sand mining reportedly taking place in Unidivided Dakshina Kannada district. It alleged that illegal sand mining in coastal Karnataka was a scandal of more than Rs 850 crore per annum and the documents were prepared over two years to prove the illegal sand mining.
According October 10, 2016 report the hundreds of streams in Kodagu district that feed the Caurvery rivers like Harangi and Lakshmana Tirtha were polluted or nearly dry due to rapid construction in catchment area and sand mining & unbridled use of groundwater for construction has depleted the water table. The district was seeing a construction boom, fuelled by the demand for villas in the hills, farmhouses, home stays and retreats.
On October 12, 2016, over 340 activists of Cauvery Protection Movement including CPI leader R Nallakannu were arrested by police in Karur while protesting against illegal sand mining being carried out on the Cauvery river bed. Handing over video evidence of the illegal sand mining to the district administration, protesters were demanding closure of sand mines on the river bed. They also said that an estimated Rs 5000 crore loss was being incurred every year to the state exchequer due to illegal sand mining.
Andhra Pradesh As per March 26, 2016 report in Hans India, sand deposits had gone down significantly on the banks of River Krishna due to indiscriminate and illegal sand mining at several places in the three districts of Krishna, Guntur and Kurnool. The report also warned that if left unchecked, it could badly affect the river ecology as replenishing the excavated sand and subsequently restoring the river’s water holding capacity might take years.
Kerala According reports there was confusion over Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines a notification issued by MoEF&CC in January 2016. The guidelines mandated creation of a District Environment Impact Assessment Authority and preparation of a district survey report to identify river sand resources, protection of the riverine ecology and steps to check illegal mining. In Kerala, district-level expert committees chaired by the respective District Collectors had already been constituted under the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act, 2001 to identify the locations for river sand mining. Experts and environmental activists fear that the uncertainty over which would prevail, the State Act or the Central notification, would end creating a situation for illegal mining to flourish in the State.
Contrary to administration claim, people reported of no decline in rampant mining of 209-km long river Bharathapuzha for past several years. They complained that due to sand mining, there had been dramatic fall in ground water table subjecting the area to water scarcity which was once known as land for its plentiful rice harvest. Sand-mining had also affected Bharathapuzha river based water supply schemes in Ottapalam, Shoranur and Pattambi as the well in the middle of the river course for drawing water for the water supply schemes had to be dug deeper due to the depletion of the water table.
With the increase in illegal sand mining and river bank encroachment in Vanimelpuzha, the numbers of accidental deaths were reportedly on the rise at Paakkoyi, Vanimel bridge area, Cherumoth, Vishnumangalam bund area and Puliyavu regions. In September 2016 Muhammed Rishad of Cherumoth died after being caught in the currents of the river. The change in river course due to mining and encroachments was cited as reason behind the incidents. The unchecked mining had also formed huge trenches even at naturally shallow regions of the river.
Tamil Nadu The residents of Kinathukidavu on July 09, 2016 opposed sand mining from the Kothavadi lake by potters and seized nine sand laden trucks, taking up the issue with revenue officials. However, the tahsildhar of Kinathukidavu, K Chitra, said the potters had obtained permission to mine more sand from the Kothavadi lake. Though the villagers subsequently allowed potters to mine sand but they said that even potters should not be allowed to mine sand randomly.
Similarly, on July 17, 2016, residents of Gurukulam, Imnampatti, Nimbaleswararm and Veppankudi all in Veppankudi village panchayat in Tiruvarangulam block besieged earth movers used for illegal mining of sand at Imnampattikulam, a sprawling tank of 90 acres in the area. The villagers said that although the Veppankudi village panchayat had permitted to clear sand only to a depth of two feet, the operators illegally quarried sand up to a depth of six feet. After waiting for about three hours, the earthmover operators left the tank due to the agitation. Villagers said that they would resume the stir if the operators continued their illegal practice.
On July 19, 2016, the farmers of Tiruchirapalli urged the administration to prevent sand mining on the Cauvery river between Mukkombu and Kambarasampettai. They reported that efforts were on to mine sand from the Cauvery river at places such as Kadiyakurichi, Pazhur, Mutharasanallur and Kambarasampettai. Farmers also said that the particular stretch of the river serves as the lifeline for farmers and was also the source for several drinking water projects hence sand mining should not be allowed there.
On August 13, 2016 on the request of the Pugalur-based River Cauvery Protection Movement, a meeting of farmers of Paramathivelur area, and those under the three canal systems discussed the repercussions of sand mining at Paramathivelur. The meeting adopted a resolution stating that the indiscriminate mining had damaged the the old bridge and the new bridge across the Cauvery between Karur and Namakkal. Speakers at the meeting urged the government to ban sand mining immediately as it had caused severe damage at the mouth of the Vaangal canal in Karur district and the Mohanur canal in Namakkal district. They said that bridges and canals in the area could be saved only if sand mining was stopped.
In September 2016, a three part indepth investigative report by Scroll India reviewed worrying situation of illegal sand mining in Tamil Nadu state. The reports highlighted nexus of politicians and sand mafia and proved that money earned through illegal mining was one of the biggest sources of funding of elections and political parties. The report further claimed that illegal sand mining had become a violent trade involving murders of locals and whistle blowers and generating about Rs. 20,000 crore annually. As per report, Tamil Nadu’s budget estimates for 2014-15 pegged incomes from sand quarries at Rs 216.82 crore. In 2013-14 the amount was even lower at Rs 133.37 crore. Activists too claimed sand mining reason behind plundering of natural resources worth between Rs 5 lakh crore to Rs 10 lakh crore in the last 25 years. According to experts the damage done to the environment was incalculable as unabated mining had irreversibly compromised food and water security of the region. Additionally several government officials and locals raising alarm against the mafia were killed since 2000. There were also reports of false cases being filed against villagers by administration for opposing sand mining.
The report found that almost all the rivers in the State including Cauvery, Palar, Vellar, Thenpennaiyar and Amravati in north and central Tamil Nadu, Vaigai in the south and Bhavani in the west were being indiscriminately mined for sand at a scale that violates mining norms let alone the destruction to rivers ecology. According reports sand mining had led to lowering of groundwater levels and affected farming based livelihoods adversely.
A group of people from two villages in Lalgudi taluk on October 18, 2016 submitted a memorandum to district collectorate Trichy opposing starting of sand quarry in Kollidam river. They alleged that illegal mining in Kollidam river upto 40 feet had affected their cultivation owing to depleting ground water table. They cautioned that it would become a threat for the newly constructed Trichy-Thanjavur bridge across Kollidam, if the government permitted sand mining further.
According similar reports, Tamil Nadu, rivers like the Noyyal were heavily polluted of pollution. Other rivers including the mighty Cauvery, was tottering due to rampant sand mining. Such is the scale that farmers felt that the river would be gone in ten years.
After demonetization, while taking actions against illegitimate exchange and deposition of new currency CBI special team on December 21, 2016, CBI arrested sand mining baron Shekhar Reddy. Income tax officials raided his properties and seized unaccounted cash of 136 crore, including 20 crore in new currency notes. Reddy was known to be associated closely with AIADMK politicians and bureaucrats. His firm JSR Infra Developers was listed as ‘Class One Contractor’ for Tamil Nadu, a coveted ranking that’s mandatory to take up the big infrastructure projects funded by the state. The company was executing a variety of projects funded by World Bank. It’s clients included Public Works Department, state highways department, Tamil Nadu Road infrastructure Development Corporation and other government agencies.
Sand mining in the state was allegedly controlled by people close to bureaucrats and state politicians. The sand mining baron was alleged to have brought sand from government mines which were the cheapest. The profit was maximized by under-reporting the quantum of sand taken from the mine. The sand was then sold to builders and others at a much higher rate, without any receipt. This not just increased the income, but also evasion of taxes that ran to several crores every year.
According sources the role of State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), which gave license for sand mining, was also being probed as Income Tax Department on December 20, 2016 had also conducted raids on the SEIAA officials to probe the link of officials to sand mining baron.
Telangana According to a positive sand mining story in The Hindu on July 17, 2016, 606 families living in Eturu, Singaram and Kanthanapally in Warangal district along Godavari river formed a cooperative society and in turn got the rights to quarry sand from three reaches under the initiative of district Collector Vakati Karuna. As a result, each of the villagers had got Rs. 60,000 for past eight months and another Rs. 60,000 were due. The villagers were very happy and determined not to let others exploit sand anymore. Earlier the villagers, for decades, remained mute spectators as influential contractors extracted sand from their habitations & minted money.
On the other hand, according to The New Indian Express, July 13, 2016 report illegal sand mining was going unchecked in the Karim Nagar district in connivance with public representatives and smugglers, despite the fact that district administration had formed divisional level teams with revenue, police and transport department authorities. Sand transporters dug sand on the unauthorized banks of Manair river leaving behind hundreds of sand trenches along the path of the river.
According December 06, 2016 news report, the permission to Telangana State Mineral Development Corporation to mine the sand in the above areas was hastily being granted by the Bhupalpalli district level sand committee chaired by Collector Murali, while MoEF&CC was yet to grant environmental clearance to the projects. An estimated 4.18 crore cubic metres of sand was available in the area to be submerged under proposed Medigadda barrage on river Godavari in Mahadevpur mandal in the district. Similarly 1.26 crore cubic metres of sand was available in the areas that come under the proposed Annaram barrage.
Summary Like 2015, there was no let up in the cases of illegal riverbed mining across the country. All the major rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Sutlej, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery etc. were mined of ‘red gold’ beyond their replenishing limits. The plight of smaller rivers was even worse.
Similarly murders of whistle blowers and assault on government officials continued throughout the year. The killing of a journalist in Sultanpur UP, a forest guard in Morena MP and activist in Tamil Nadu while exposing and preventing illegal riverbed extraction proved that mining mafia had no fear of law.
Apart from this, deaths of innocent villagers due to deep sand mining pits, changed river courses and fatal accidents were also reported in different states. The death of two kids in Bihar, a woman in MP and a youth in Kerala had direct link with illegal trading of the riverbed sand.
In the year 2016, we also saw several reports clearly exposing politician-administration-mafia nexuses carrying on sand mining in broad day lights in violation of laws thus causing losses running into crores to state exchequer across Saharanpur (UP), Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. There were reports revealing black money generated by sand mining as big sources of funding to political parties and even elections.
Excessive sand mining was stated as one of the reasons behind tragic Mahad bridge collapse incident in Maharashtra. Since the Mahad tragedy, there have been many reports highlighting how unabated riverbed mining was threatening the major bridges in and out of Maharastra state.
Adverse effects of sand mining on ground water table, irrigation channels, fishermen livelihood, coastal areas, wetlands and mangroves were also reported all through the year in different parts of country. Also there have been many public protest and struggle that got some success in controlling the unscientific mining activities.
At the end, the stories of returning of Otters in previously mining ravaged streams in Goa and formation of Co-operatives Societies by villagers in Telangana to carry out sustainable mining by their own to ward off illegal miners were truly inspiring and encouraging. Hope other States also involve river bank communities in legitimate extraction of sand and river ecosystems damaged due to excessive riverbed sand mining are restored to their previous glory in the year 2017.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read second part of the series, kindly visit: River Sand Mining in India in 2016-II-Governments Show No Will to Regulate
To read second part of the series, kindly visit: River Sand Mining in India in 2016-III- Judicial Interventions