Disturbing reports have been appearing from several parts of the country of rivers ravaged by sand-mining mafias to the extent that the very survival of some of the smaller rivers serious harmed in this way has been threatened. Much of this mining  is clearly illegal and controlled by powerful local mafias who do not hesitate to confront and even attack even the few honest and courageous officials who dare to check them. Generally this situation does not arise as things are managed more conveniently by means of  corruption .

In Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh local newspapers very recently reported a strange case in which even in lockdown conditions  of deserted roads  tractors which could be identified clearly were allowed to proceed hindered to river mining sites. Forest officials who finally caught the illegal miners red-handed expressed great surprise  at the fact that when all entry points had been barricaded in lockdown conditions by the police still these tractors had no difficulty in covering a long distance to reach the mining site without being stopped and questioned regarding their destination and motive.

The recent fasts at Matra Sadan in Hardwar by saints were aimed at least partly at checking sand mining. Movements of people to check sand mining have been reported from time to time from several other areas including Bundelkhand. The Ken river which is a lifeline for Bundelkhand has been badly ravaged by sand mining mafias but recently there was also an inspiring instance of people rising against this in one village—Kolawalpur , locaed in Mahuwa block of Banda district. At a time and in a place where sand mining mafias spell terror for most people, ordinary villagers had somehow summoned the courage to guard and protect the river . Women were in the forefront of the struggle. They were standing in river water and shouting slogans and singing prayers to save the Ken river. Later they were joined by other people in a bigger march and the administration had to take protective actions  at least at one mining site.

While the villagers were certainly trying to protect the river, they were also motivated partly by resisting the injustice and harm caused to local workers and workers. This is another aspect of these ruthless mining mafias.

Here as well in several other places sand mining had been taking place at much beyond sustainable levels. Almost all the rules and precautions of relatively safer mining have been violated at most sites with ruthlessness, heavy  machinery has been taken to the riverbed  and those who question or challenge this have been threatened with violence.

Instead of confining to river-bank or flood-plain area the heavy machinery digs deep into the river-bed and for this temporary bunding is done to check the flow of water. This has several impacts which can deplete the water in the dry season while at the same time increasing the threat of erosion and floods at the time of rains. The capacity of the river to absorb and retain water and also to link with the groundwater aquifers and to replenish them when these need water is adversely affected.

The increasing turbidity created by machinery, the bunding , removal of sediments are all bad for diversity of aquatic life and fish as well as other species may perish in large numbers or suffer a gradual decline. Needless to add the satisfaction of the water needs of human beings, farm and domesticated animals as well as wild life around the vast area around river banks is also very adversely affected .

Clearly there is need for fixing and enforcing careful regulations as per local needs so that only very limited mining which is not harmful for river is allowed. Otherwise the costs in terms of permanent damage to river, increasing water scarcity for people as well as animals and increasing threats of droughts and floods will be very heavy.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.



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