According to data from the Ministry of Mines, Maharashtra state recorded 26,628 cases of illegal mining in 2017, the highest across the country. In 2018, data up to June showed 2,751 cases. Between 2013 and 2018, 2,228 people were booked for illegal mining, one court case was filed, and 163,366 vehicles were seized. The fines collected for illegal mining over 6 years was ₹ 365 Crores.
As per another report, Maharashtra has highest number of cases of non-compliance of sustainable sand mining management guidelines, 2016. According to data submitted in the Lok Sabha, the ministry received 7 major complaints regarding non-compliance in 2017, out of which 6 were from Maharashtra and one from Himachal Pradesh. The highest number of illegal mining instances have been recorded in the state as per data by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change. It recorded around 139,700 illegal mining cases between 2013 and 2017.
Village showing way to fight illegal sand mining Residents of Panegoan village in the Nevasa taluka of Ahmednagar district have been taking on the government and illegal sand miners without a formal organisation or leadership.
Panegoan is located on the right bank of the river Mula. The village is a part of the sugar cane belt. The unavailability of other avenues of employment has made the land owners as well as landless highly dependent on the agrarian economy and the river Mula plays an important role in this scheme of things.
Sand plays a vital part in retaining the water-holding capacity of river and sand mining thus is a threat to the ecosystem as it not only disturbs the river flow but also affects the groundwater level. The role of the river Mula and its sand as aquifer is vital for the villagers. The fact has united the people and led them towards collective action, through which they have succeeded in protecting the riverbed from sand looters. As a result, the whole ecosystem of the village is being preserved as of now.
In 1997, the then circle officer announced an auction of the sand in Panegoan which was awarded to a contractor for Rs 10 lakh. However, realizing and witnessing the perils faced by the neighbouring villages, which had allowed sand mining, the villagers of Panegoan decided not to allow extraction of sand from the riverbed. They immediately passed a resolution in the village gramsabha, banning any kind of sand extraction from the river. They also moved the Aurangabad bench of the Mumbai HC seeking a permanent ban on sand auctioning in the village.
Due to their collective struggle, a sand track spread over 20 – 21 km with 100 meter width and about 80 – 100 feet depth has been preserved in the village.
In Panegoan tube wells get water at mere 50 – 60 feet underground whereas in the places where sand was excessively extracted water level has gone below 300 feet and there is no assurance of finding water too. Even though there was drought for almost four consecutive years—between 2012 and 2016—the village did not ask for water tankers for drinking water.
The Panegoan villagers even blocked the vehicles that were being used to transport sand. Word spread in the region that Panegoan does not allow sand mining and this began to deter the sand mafia members from dredging sand from the riverbed there.
Only Panegoan residents are allowed to lift sand from the riverbed but with the condition that it must be done only in bullock carts and it should not be hoarded. Tractors and dumper trucks are not permitted to carry sand from the riverbed.
The uniqueness of the Panegoan’s movement is that it was spontaneous but has sustained itself for the last 19 years, without any external aid or support. People are contributing money for the pursuit of legal expenses according to their financial capacity.
The Panegoan movement has also shown the way for other villages located on the banks of a river. Many villages have also passed resolutions at gramsabhas, preventing sand mining in any part of the river going through their villages. This ripple effect of the Panegoan movement is being felt in adjoining villages on the riverbanks of Mula and Pravara in the Ahmednagar district. Over 12 villages have moved court seeking ban on legal sand extraction and through vigilance they are preventing illegal sand looting. https://www.epw.in/engage/article/illegal-sand-mining-how-village-maharashtra-shown-way (19 May 2018)
Akola Illegal Sand Mining Case Mining auction challenged, NGT issues notices In May 2018, taking serious note of auctioning of 58 sand ghats in Akola district, against environment clearance that was given without following MoEFCC guidelines, NGT admitted a petition challenging it. “The NGT principle bench presided over by chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim, judicial member SP Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nanda took serious note of the matter and directed respondents — MoEFCC, state government, Akola district collector and mining officer and others to file a reply till next date.
In March 2018, 34 sand ghats were e-auctioned for a royalty of Rs 4.85 crore without district survey report (DSR), which is an important initial step before permitting sand mining and granting environment clearance (EC). Permits to extract sand through e-auction were granted on March 5, without preparing the mandatory DSR. Sand extraction was allowed without following MoEFCC’s Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016 of MoEFCC.
“Rampant illegal sand mining in Purna, Morna, Katepurna, Maan, Mahesh, Wan and various other riverbeds in Akola district is affecting integrity of river system and flood plains,” the petitioner alleged.
Though river mining is permitted, it needs to be carried out with certain checks and balances for protection of environment. Such safeguards and checks are provided in terms of Environment Impact Notification (EIA) issued on Sept 14, 2006 and amended on Jan 15, 2016 by issuing guidelines.
Sustainable sand mining guidelines require preparation of a DSR before formulating a mining policy. These guidelines emphasize detail procedure to be followed for the purpose of identification of areas of aggradation and deposition where mining can be allowed and identification of areas of erosion and proximity to infrastructural structures and installation where mining should be prohibited.
The DSR is to be prepared in the district based on direct and indirect benefits of the mining and identification of the potential threats to the riverbeds in the district. DSR provides environmentally safe depth of mining and safeguards of banks by prescribing safe distance from banks.
Preparation of DSR has to be done by a sub-divisional committee which should visit each site and make recommendations. The committee consists of SDO and officers from irrigation, geology, mining, forest departments and state pollution control board. DSR is to be prepared every 5 years by District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) for granting EC below 5 ha.
“The DSR draft is required to be kept in public domain in collectorate inviting comments in 21 days. After considering comments, DSR is to be published on district website. No EC can be granted without DSR,” says Jeswani. In Akola, as no DSR has been prepared since 2016, there is no data on impacts caused to rivers, amount of sand extracted in last three years. Sand is being permitted in violation of MoEFCC guidelines.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/akola-sand-mining-auction-challenged-ngt-issues-notices/articleshow/64309711.cms (25 May 2018)
Don’t allow sand mining without district survey report: NGT In Dec. 2018, the NGT ordered that government should strictly follow Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines of 2016 programed by the MoEFCC in the Akola illegal mining case.
The order was in the wake of a petition filed by Akot based wildlife and environment lawyer Manish Jeswani and Dr Sarvabhoum Bagli against rampant illegal sand mining in Maharashtra and Akola in particular.
The NGT had also asked to demarcate mining area with pillars and get referencing done prior to start of mining. The project proponents (tehsildars) must ensure that the CCTV cameras, personal computer, internet connection, power back up, access control of mine lease site: and arrangement for weight or approximation of weight of mined out mineral on basis of volume of the trailer of vehicle used at mine lease site are available. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/dont-allow-sand-mining-without-dist-survey-report-ngt/articleshow/65940725.cms (25 Sept. 2018)
Ministry of Mines Survey Maharashtra Govt lacks sand mining policy A study of 14 states by Ministry of Mines revealed that Maharashtra state lacked a policy to identify sand reaches.
A high-level central govt team that conducted the study across the country stated that Maharashtra has not conducted any assessment of demand for sand vis-à-vis the supply. The study also said that Maharashtra was the only state that did not have a figure for total production of river sand and its value for three fiscal years — from 2014-15 to 2016-17.
It further noted that electronic monitoring of the process of extraction of sand using CCTVs was followed in some districts while there was no electronic measurement of the sand that was extracted nor was there GPS-tracking of vehicles that transport the extracted sand. Besides, there was no data regarding stockyard level of sand availability maintained on any portal.
In contrast, the report mentioned that Gujarat was the only state which prepares a detailed geological report for identification of sand blocks, it is done by a technically qualified person. The report stated that overall Maharashtra state was “sand deficit”, which has led to “very high prices for sand in the state” and that it is considering a proposal for import of sand from other countries like Malaysia and Philippines.
Another observation made in the detailed report was that in Maharashtra in place of mines and geology department that controls activities of sand mining as was done in most states, the revenue and forest department were entrusted with this task. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/maharashtra-lacks-sand-mining-policy-says-centres-report/articleshow/63324684.cms (16 March 2018)
Maharashtra Government New policy for sand In Jan. 2018, the State Govt formed a new policy for the excavation of sand, in which measures were reportedly made to tighten the sand mafia. Under this policy, the gram panchayat will be able to provide funds to the respective villages as per the amount of sand auction and the right to inspect the vehicles of the sand transport has been given to Gramsevak and Sarpanch. It is also compelled to set up 24-hour closed circuit television (CCTV) in connection with the sand-bearing contractor.
5 % of collected funds will be allocated as administrative expenses. It will have to be done for safeguarding measures to prevent illegal sand extraction. It has been proposed in the new policy to provide private vehicles for the Vigilance Squad, and to maintain security personnel.
Accordingly, if the amount of auction is upto Rs. 1 crore, then 25 % of the amount will be paid to the Gram Panchayats. If the amount of auction is between Rs. 1 – 2 crore, then at least 20 % of the fund or Rs 25 lakh will be given to the gram panchayat. If the amount of the auction is between 2-5 crores, 15 % of the amount or Ra 40 lakhs, and Rs 5 crore for auctioned amount, then 10 % or at least Rs 60 lakhs will be given to gram panchayats. The concerned amount will be deposited by the contractor to the state government.
New Policy provisions Environmental clearance for sand excavation essential
– Before contracting sand, the contractor needs to be made available there
– Excavation can be done from six in the morning to 6 in the evening.
– Ban on taking big vehicles in river basin.
– Sand should be excavated manually. Pokleen, JCB can not be used
– Only one road to be allowed to transport sand. https://maharashtratimes.indiatimes.com/pune-news/maharashtra-government-draft-new-polocy-for-sand-mining-in-state/articleshow/62371733.cms (5 Jan. 2018)
Govt plans use of drones to tackle illegal sand mining Despite restrictions imposed by the NGT, cases of illegal sand excavation and transport have become rampant across the state. The paucity of revenue staff is another reason behind uncontrolled activities of sand mafia. In order to tackle this issue, the state revenue department in July 2018 decided to use drones to trace the illegal activities of sand mining and stocks in various areas.
The decision was an outcome of over 1,830 cases of illegal sand mining across the state registered in the past one year. The revenue authority managed to recover fine of Rs 22 crore from them, but the actual violation is much more than this official figure.
As per the report, due to significant gap the ratio of demand and supply, the cases of illegal mining have rapidly increased since the past few months. In a number of incidents, mafia goons have even attacked revenue officers, including talati, circule officer and tehsildars. https://punemirror.indiatimes.com/pune/civic/state-plans-use-of-drones-to-tackle-illegal-sand-mining/articleshow/65109963.cms (24 July 2018)
Govt bans mining in Sindhudurg green hotspot In Dec. 2018, administrative and forest officials banned all forms of mining within 59 villages in Dodamarg taluka, an important wildlife corridor connecting Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary in Kolhapur in Maharashtra to Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka. Before this, on Dec. 5, the chief justice’s bench of the HC passed an order prohibiting tree felling in the Sanctuary.
The HC order, based on a petition by NGO Vanashakti, also directed the state govt and union environment ministry to take appropriate steps to declare it an ecologically sensitive area (ESA). Declaring an ESA means projects such as mining, quarrying, setting up of industries, townships and area development projects must be banned. The petitioner in the matter alleged that local politicians were trying to stop the ESA notification. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/maharashtra-government-bans-mining-in-sindhudurg-green-hotspot/story-Ak1GpYYU7eVwgDWD9qrAPN.html (19 Dec. 2018)
Miners at Thane Creek A life mired in dirty water, illness, illegality Indepth report on sand miners of Thane creek. To say that they live risky life is such an understatement. There are nearly 70,000 people engaged in manual sand dredging work on the 12-km stretch of Thane creek about 30 km north of Mumbai. Over the years, this has become the primary source of sand for the booming construction business in Mumbai and its two neighbouring cities of Thane and Navi Mumbai.
– The workers dive down 50 feet to dredge for sand
– In 1952, Mustafa Fakih, then the revenue minister of the erstwhile Mumbai state, opened the 12-km stretch of Thane creek to carry out sand excavation work. “It was supposed to be an alternative source of income for the natives of this region, mostly belonging to the Koli and Agri communities,” says Nandkumar Pawar, founder of the Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP), who has been following this issue for years.
– Recognising the environmental hazards of sand dredging, the western bench of the NGT in 2014 banned sand mining in coastal regions of many states, including Maharashtra. Soon after, the state govt filed an appeal against the order, but in a series of petitions, environmental activists ensured the official ban on excavation continued.
– Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation feels the situation here is so desperate that you cannot help but look at this with some sympathy. “People are desperate and indulge in this work. One cannot ignore their living conditions. But this work also has a huge impact on the environment and this is a reality too.” https://thewire.in/labour/maharashtra-illegal-sand-mining-thane (5 April 2018)
Sand divers risking lives for a few 100 rupees In June, Babban Bartade, daily wager involved in mining sand, died accidently at Vasai Creek, one of the two main distributaries of the Ulhas River. Manual sand dredging from the bottom of the creek has become a deadly trade that fuels the booming construction industry. Despite official crack down it continues at several places in Mumbai.
About 75,000 men, many from poor areas, were risking their lives and health by spending up to 12 hours a day diving 40 feet (12 metres) into pitch-black waters with iron buckets to fill with sand. In response, the Maharashtra govt promised to end illegal mining along the creek, impose regulations, and provide alternate jobs.
Almost one year later, there are far fewer sand mining boats on the creek, but the promised jobs have not materialised with officials at different levels of govt passing responsibility for the employment plan on to others. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/sand-miners-risk-injuries-and-even-death-for-a-few-100-rupees-more-1899429 (13 Aug. 2018)
Illegal Sand Mining and Administrative Action Illegal mining still rampant at Kihim According to Awaaz Foundation illegal sand mining continued at Kihim beach despite several complaints being made to the authorities. http://www.asianage.com/metros/mumbai/100218/illegal-sand-mining-still-rampant-at-kihim.html (10 Feb. 2018)
The Awaaz Foundation also wrote letters to the Raigad district collector, Vijay Suryawanshi, and the Konkan divisional commissioner, Dr Jagdish Patil, demanding stern action against illegal sand mining. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/need-tough-stand-against-sand-mafia-say-activists/articleshow/62840812.cms (9 Feb. 2018)
In Dec. 2018, the Awaz foundation again raised the issue of illegal sand mining at Kihim Beach, saying that it was leading to soil erosion and loss of tree cover. On Dec. 24, it also filed a complaint with the Konkan commissioner and district administration of Raigad in this regard and attached week-old pictures of bullock carts transporting sand away from the beach. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/illegal-sand-mining-on-kihim-beach-near-mumbai-eroding-it-says-ngo/story-K1lCCkIOzI6z29RRvCNSIM.html (26 Dec. 2018)
Illegal mining going on in Panvel There was a revival in sand-mining at certain sites in Panvel taluka but Raigad district authorities stated that they were regularly taking action against illegal sand-mining in their jurisdiction. A local activist recently intimated Raigad district collectorate and Panvel tehsil office about illegal sand-mining at Vaghivali, near Jui Kamothe. The wet sand illegally collected from Vaghivali is transported to another spot nearby, from where it was taken in vehicles to be sold at construction sites. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/activists-seeks-foolproof-plan-as-illegal-sand-mining-revives-in-panvel/articleshow/63086243.cms (27 Feb. 2018)
Illegal mining activity at Hingangaon busted The revenue officials and the Pune rural police impounded three trucks, a heavy earth moving machine and two tractors which were being used for illegally digging out sand and silt from the Mula-Mutha riverbed at Hingangaon near the famous temple town of Theur off the Pune-Solapur road.
The FIR report stated that the revenue authorities never issued any tender for the sand digging at Hingangaon village. Despite this, the suspects were stealing sand from the riverbed. Police said that the suspects behind the sand racket might have taken tender at some other place for sand digging and in order to extract more sand, they may have shifted their machinery to the Hingangaon to save royalty money. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/pune-rural-cops-revenue-authorities-bust-illegal-sand-mining-activity-at-hingangaon/articleshow/64451509.cms (4 June 2018)
Mangroves hacked by sand mining mafia Weeks after the state mangrove cell released a report highlighting a 133-ha increase in the mangrove cover across 11 locations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Navi Mumbai residents have alleged that five ha of mangrove forests have been cleared illegally by the sand mining mafia.
A fishermen’s group named Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) filed a complaint with the state’s wetland grievance redressal committee and the Konkan commissioner, alleging that over 1,000 mangrove trees were hacked and sand was being excavated illegally using suction pumps in an area near a creek between Khandeshwar and Mansarovar railway station. The state’s wetland grievance committee said they had taken cognisance of the complaint. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mangroves-hacked-by-sand-mining-mafia-allege-fishermen-in-navi-mumbai/story-EZDRObuVb0eaYsDUczDZlM.html (8 Sept. 2018)
100 booked for illegal sand mining in Palghar Police have booked around 100 people and seized 43 trucks for illegal extraction and transportation of sand from the Vaitarna riverbed. The action followed a crackdown on members of the sand mafia in the district by the rural police on Sept. 7 night. Raids were carried out in keeping with the orders of courts which have banned extraction of sand from the river using pumps and their transportation, the police said.
Around 100 people, including truck owners and drivers, were booked under relevant sections of the IPC, the prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the Environment (Protection) Rules and other relevant laws. District superintendent of police Gaurav Sing said 43 trucks laden with sand, one car and a JCB machine were seized during the crackdown. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thane/100-booked-for-illegal-sand-mining-in-palghar/articleshow/65743130.cms (9 Sept. 2018)
9 impounded trucks, stolen in Pune 9 trucks, impounded by revenue officials as part of a drive against illegal sand mining, were stolen from the Hadapsar revenue office. Police suspect that the thefts occurred sometime in the intervening night of Oct. 1-2. During a special drive, revenue officials impounded trucks carrying illegally mined sands to Pune city. The sand is supplied to the different under-construction sites in the city, police said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/nine-trucks-seized-in-drive-against-illegal-sand-mining/articleshow/66046008.cms (3 Oct. 2018)
Raid conducted on illegal mining The Raigad district officials carried out a raid against illegal sand mining at Juikamothe region of Panvel taluka on Oct. 29 following an alert from local activists. However, this is the third such raid against the sand mafia at this site, and the activists suspect that someone within the govt dept is leaking out information about raids to the sand cartel well in advance. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/maharashtra-officials-launch-raid-on-illegal-sand-mining-at-juikamothe-in-panvel/articleshow/66434437.cms (30 Oct. 2018)
Summary The above reports show that Maharashtra is a leading state where most of the cases of illegal sand mining are being reported for past many years along with poor compliance record.
In fact, there was no significant change in the scenario in 2018. However there has been remarkable developments on behalf of government and judiciary. While, the report of Panegaon villagers keeping Mula river protected from illegal sand mining is encouraging, the description of sand mining impact on the lives of divers at Thane creek is very sad.
The illegality in issuing sand extraction leases in Akola district in 2018, reinforces the state image as top violator. The survey by Ministry of Mines, this year, also revealed several loopholes in state’s sand mining policy. Though the government is learnt to have a new sand mining policy in Jan. 2018, there is not much details about the same in media reports.
On positive side, the decision of forest department to ban all kinds of mining in Sindhudurg is welcome. Hope the state revenue department decision to use drones to check illegal sand mining in the state would bring some positive outcome.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
End Note:- As part of annual exercise since 2015, SANDRP is presenting year end overview on the issue of illegal sand mining in India’s rivers. This year we have been publishing these reports in a state wise format. Before Maharashtra we have uploaded illegal sand mining overview for following states: