Ken River, the lifeline of Bundelkhand region is again succumbing to illegal sand mining on a massive scale. The 427 km long river originates from agricultural lands in Mamar hills of Katni district, Madhya Pradesh. It flows through Panna district and merges into Yamuna river as right bank tributary at Cheela Ghat in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh.
For first about 50 km from origin the river remains seasonal and gets strength once the tributary streams and rivers like Aloni, Gurne, Patne, Sonar, Midhasan, Shyamari, Banne, Khudar, Kutne, Urmil, Kail successively falls into it as the river flows through plateau area of Vindhya hill range in Central India.
Weathering of the rock material found along the river, makes Ken rich in Balu, which is of light orange colour quartz. It is coarser with particles bigger than usual grey colour sand. This sand or Baalu is locally known as Morang. The general perception is that the Morang makes stronger bond with cement. Hence it is mined indiscriminately and used widely in construction. This virtue of Morang has made Ken River preferred destination for organized sand mafias in the region.
The stretch of river particularly in Panna and Banda districts are hotspot for large illegal sand mining. The river also forms boundary between MP and UP for about 53 km, this stretch is routinely ravaged by mechanized excavation of riverbed.
Government Changed in MP But No Respite For River, People
The previous Shivraj Singh Chauhan led Bhartiya Janta Party Government failed to protect the Ken River from organized loot of sand. The illegal mining hardly becomes an election issue, but in recently held state assembly election the now Chief Minister of State, Kamal Nath made it a poll promise and won the election. Despite this there is no respite for the rivers and villagers suffering from unlawful mining activities.
Since, the new government took charge in December 2018, there has been countless incidents of illegal mining in Ken River. Reports are also revealing that politicians affiliated with the ruling party are mainly responsible for present day menace.
The farmers whose crops are damaged during sand transportation process through their fields and the villagers suffer in multiple ways including lack of water in the river and falling groundwater due to illegal mining operation. These impacts remain unaddressed. There is hardly any discussion about impact of massive sand mining on other key stakeholders like riverbed farmers, boatmen, fishermen, shepherds etc.
Moreover, the adverse impact of mindless mining on river aquatic biodiversity and riparian flora and fauna is not even assessed. The turtles, fish, crabs, gharials, water birds etc are at receiving end of illegal mining activities.
Violent attacks on government officials who dare to act against the mafia have become norm of the day. The bullet exchange incidents between rival groups has also become a routine affair. The latest in the list is heckling of Ajaygarh Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Arushi Gupta, who was threatened by a Congress leader while she was discharging her duty. The politician also forcibly freed a confiscated truck involved in illegal mining in Ken River around May 18, 2019.
Mafia Created Illegal Bunds At Three Locations In Ken River
At a time when villages and towns around Ken River are facing severe water crisis, the sand mafia had created illegal bunds in the river in Panna and Banda districts. This shows how fearless the mafia is in the Bundelkhand and how helpless are the governments of respective states. The act not only aggravates the water scarcity in Banda and other Bundelkhand districts, but also threatened the safety of structures like a bridge in Panna.
Bridge Structure Threatened in Panna
First in March 2019, sand mafia built about 20 metres long illegal bund to facilitate mining and transportation of the mineral across the river at Bira, Ajaygarh. As a result the river was impounded into a stagnant pool. The bund was demolished after media reports but came up again in May 2019. The administration accepted that the mining was happening without licence.
Surprisingly the illegal act was happening at a time when the MP state government was planning a new policy to check illegal sand mining. Moreover, the excessive mining at the location posed a threat to the existence of a bridge connecting Ajaygarh to Chandla area in Chhatarpur district.
Even the government officials acknowledged the threat as sand was mined to the depth of 3 meters to 4 meters right beneath the pillars of the bridge. This happened despite the law clearly prohibiting any kind of mining within a distance of 500 metres on either side of existing structures like bridges, barrages etc.
As per reports, this was not the first time that sand mafia had built bridge on Ken River. In 2017 also, the mafia had built almost 50 meters long bund at a strategic location between Chhattarpur and Panna to facilitate the mining operations. Similarly about a 200-meter long bund was constructed at the location some 15 years back.
Water crisis getting worse in Banda
As a result, the river changed its course and the water intake well was deprived of the river water. The act created severe dearth in water supply in the town leading to public outcry and protests. The farmers also staged a six day long strike demanding action against the ongoing illegal mining in the river.
However the administration sprang into action only when the former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra raised the issue. But in a back lash the officials also damaged the crops of riverbed farmers thus destroying their livelihoods.
According to reports, several such bunds had been constructed along 43 km long stretch of river between Nairaini and Banda obstructing the free flow.
Earlier, in November 2018, facing crop damages, over 300 farmers including around 50 women, started ‘Jal Satyagrah’ to protest against illegal mining in Ken River near Kolawal Raipur in Girwan area. Also Dhasan River is facing the illegal mining problem and Karbai area is battling groundwater depletion due to unabated mining in Bundelkhand.
Summing Up:- Multiple news reports show that Ken River in Bundelkhand is being severely impacted by illegal sand mining operations. The Ajaygarh Tehsil in Panna, Banda district and the border areas of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh along Ken River are the worst affected places.
It seems the respective state governments are knowingly turning a blind eye to the wide spread mining menace in the river. The act is not only causing revenue losses but also allowing government sponsored destruction of river eco-system. In open violation of laws, the mafia has been impounding river flows in bunds and threatening the safety of the bridges on the river thus endangering the lives of citizens. Also, the illegal sand mining and creation of illegal bunds have become key factor in worsening water crisis this year in Banda.
It is surprising to note that while government officials are well aware of illegal mining activities and its resultant implications, nevertheless they have failed to stop it. River biodiversity, farmers and villagers are at the receiving end of mining mayhem. Digital technology, satellite images and drones could aid administration in monitoring illegal bund creation and mining activities efficiently but the governments of both states seem least interested.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)