Seeing large scale impacts of unsustainable riverbed sand mining, the Supreme Court (SC) of India had banned sand mining activities in the state on Nov. 16, 2017. The apex court had also asked the 82 lease holders to get fresh permission of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) after submission of replenishment study.
Following this, the state government had formed a committee to look into the issue. All through 2018 the ban remained[I]. The status has not changed even as the year 2019 is ending. Meanwhile cases of illegal sand mining are continuously taking place in across the state. So are the police actions as routine process, some political statements, and few court orders. Like last year, this annual round up by SANDRP compiles, all these and other relevant developments on the issue from the state of Rajasthan.
After SC ban, the state government tried various efforts to provide relief to construction sector and halted governmental infrastructure projects. The production of M (Manufactured) sand picked up pace and state reportedly saw establishment of 20 M sand plants. But the trade continued without any guidelines from state government.
So, on Jan. 7, after Chief Minister (CM) Ashok Gehlot instructions the mines and geology department officials reportedly started exercise to give legal framework on M- Sand[II] production and supply to meet the growing demands. Further, to provide relief to large sections of the construction industry, government agencies and residents, the department on Jan. 9, decided[III] to initiate the process of issuing sand mining leases on agriculture land up to 4 hectare.
Exposing link[IV] between mining department officials and sand mafia, the Jan. 21, report claimed that mining of around 70 trucks red sand was happening daily in Neemuch district’s Brahamani, Tumba and Retam rivers with the use of dredging machines.
The SC on Feb. 4 slammed the government for illegal mining in the Aravali[V] area and said that the entire machinery in the state was rotten. The apex court also asked Chief Secretary DB Gupta to appear before it on Feb 8 for the next hearing.
In first week of Feb., the newly elected Congress government also started the process of framing new sand mining policy[VI]. The existing 2015 policy, which was held as a ‘futuristic’ document by previous government, was termed as outdated by the new government. However, the goals envisaged in the new policy were reportedly similar to those of the existing mining policy. The mining department also talked of using stone slurry from marble industries as an alternative to river sand.
On Feb. 14, Dungarpur police team seized 12 high-tech boats fitted with dredging implements[VII] from Som river and impounded around 6,000 tonnes of river sand of Rs 10 crore market value. Police said they were taken aback to find implements-fitted boats in the middle of the river. The high-tech boats were so heavy that police had to call team of State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) from Udaipur to bring them to the riverbank.
As per the police, this was the first time that boats fitted with such equipment were seized in the state. However, locals said that it was common knowledge that around 50 such boats were in use in three districts of Dungarpur, Chittorgarh and Udaipur.
According to the report, each of these boats cost about Rs 70,000 -80,000 to prepare. The sand mined using these machines was finer then normal sand and therefore fetching more price. Cost of one tonne of this sand was between Rs 15,000 – 18,000,.
The Dungarpur SP also stated that apart from causing environmental damage by dredging the river, the people involved in the illegal business were also responsible for some road accidents. “They press on the gas when they see police. In 2018 alone, 50 people were killed in road accidents involving vehicles carrying illegal river sand,” he said.
In the second week of Feb. 2019, Raghuvir Meena, sarpanch of Hathroli village in Sawai Madhopur district was killed[VIII] allegedly by people involved in illegal sand mining. The sarpanch had accompanied police personnel and mining department officials to conduct a raid at Hindpura village, where contractors and labourers involved in illegal mining attacked the team.
In another tragic incident, 4 labourers, including a woman, died[IX] after a sand dune collapsed on them during illegal mining operations in Bundi district. The incident occurred in Chambal Crocodile Sanctuary near Sunagar village on March 26 evening. Protesting against death, the villagers halted the traffic on main road and demanded a compensation of 20 lakhs for each deceased.
The SC on May 10 stayed the order[XI] of Rajasthan High Court (HC) which had allowed the auction of sand-mining blocks in the state. SC order came after Letters of Intent (LoI) were issued by the state government. The state government had issued a notice against the review petition which challenged the HC order. The top court heard the state and asked it to respond within four weeks.
In a significant development, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) team unearthed a racket[XII] in the smuggling of bajri (riverbed sand), allegedly involving police officials who were taking bribes from trucks carrying sand brought from the Banas river in the Tonk district. A police constable carrying bribe money[XIII] worth ₹1.4 lakh was arrested on May 16.
In the third fatal incident, Kishore Singh Juliasar, a 65-year-old man, was mowed down[XIV] by a truck involved illegal transport of gravel in Kardhani area of Jaipur city on June 12. The incident infuriated the Ganga Vihar colony residents who said that the transport of illegal gravel in trucks was a common sight in the area. They alleged that trucks were escorted by other vehicles including an SUV and the police was not taking any action in the matter despite repeated complaints.
The murder threw light on how illegal mining was growing rampantly in the state and to the extent mining mafias were going to remove obstacles that come their way. Rights groups complained that successive governments had failed to solve the problem of illegal mining that was taking place across river belts and mountainous regions in the state.
According to Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in State Assembly in Feb. 2018, a scrutiny of the records of nine superintending mining engineers (SME) or mining engineers (ME) in five districts – Alwar, Jaipur, Sikar, Rajsamand and Udaipur revealed[XV] that these offices registered 4,072 cases of illegal mining, transportation and storage of minerals during 2011-12 to 2016-17.
“Around 98.87 lakh metric tonnes of minerals were found to have been illegally excavated (during 2011-12 to 2016-17). The department, however, could recover only around Rs 25.57 crore against the recoverable amount of about Rs 204.50 crore,” said the CAG report on the economic sector for the financial year ended March 31, 2017 said.
As per the official data of mines department between year 2014 and 2017, 2514 cases of illegal mining were registered across the state. The top five districts with maximum number of cases were Bhilwara (261), Nagaur (180), Sikar (167), Jaipur (167) and Jhunjhunu (156). The police department also registered 7,905 cases of illegal transport of river sand. Maximum number of cases were registered in Alwar (2421), Bikaner (1388) and Dhaulpur (811) under different sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and Rajasthan Mining Rules.
Post SC ban, the illegal mining of sand had thrived in the state leading to law and order issue, apart from causing huge revenue loss to the government. To overcome the shortage, in June, the mining department planned to issue about a dozen large sand mining leases[XVI] from rivers in Tonk, Ajmer, Bhilwara, Jhunjhunu, Pali and Jodhpur districts. Although the government had allowed sand mining on agriculture plots of less than 4 hectares, it could not address the supply constraints considering the huge demand for construction activities.
The report further mentioned that the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, Dhanbad, had conducted the replenishment study of the mines and report was to be sent to MoEF&CC for its approval. Meanwhile, the department was also learnt to be working on a draft of new mining policy and a state policy to promote M sand.
In June, Rajasthan DGP Kapil Garg admitted that sand mafia was flourishing[XVII] with the help of government machinery, however state mining minister Pramod Bhaya said that he was not aware of it. Jaipur district administration, after forming several teams to curb illegal sand mining, seized 12 vehicles including 10 tractors, and two JCBs. One FIR was registered at Nindar police station.
The Mines Minister on June 28, responding to supplementary questions raised during the Question Hour in state assembly, said that a special team would be formed to check illegal mining and strict action would be taken against those guilty.
Before this, Speaker C P Joshi adjourned the House[XVIII] for half an hour following an argument with state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, who was not allowed by the Speaker to reply to allegations regarding illegal sand mining. The Opposition BJP members staged a walkout in the Assembly after raising the issues of illegal mining and transport of ‘bajri’, despite the ban imposed by the SC.
Attacking the government through an adjournment motion, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Rajendra Rathore said though the Governor’s address to the House on January 17 had admitted of the ‘bajri’ mafia operating in the State, no concrete step[XIX] had been taken to stop the illegal activity. He also said that in absence of policy, the state was facing a revenue loss of Rs 11 crore per day and people in the State were still waiting for the sandstone policy that the government had promised.
In July, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the government not to conduct any sand mining activity[XX] on two plots in the Beri Ganga forest area of Jodhpur district till the land, belonging to forest and mining departments, was clearly demarcated according to revenue record. The direction came after the NGT was informed that sand mining was being carried out “indiscriminately” in the garb of mining lease at various places, in the absence of demarcation. The government had, however, refuted the allegation and said there was no illegal mining and authorities were taking requisite action to stop such activity.
On May 15, the NGT had directed that no mining or non-forest activity would be carried out till the demarcation was made in accordance to the revenue record. The tribunal also said that it had given several opportunities to the state government and its authorities to demarcate the land, “but the same has not been done because the trace map is said to be not available”.
Listing the matter for further hearing on July 22, the court directed several top officials of the district to appear before it to “resolve this issue on the basis of correct information and relevant record”.
On July 22, expressing surprise over unavailability of a revenue map[XXI], the tribunal, directed the Jodhpur collector to take immediate steps to find the original revenue record of Beri Ganga and Motisara forest area. Reiterating its order of no sand mining activity in the area, it also directed the collector to prepare a compilation of Google imageries of the last 10 years. The matter was then listed for next hearing on August 19.
The NGT was hearing a plea filed by local resident Ram Ji Vyas, alleging illegal mining going on in the Beri Ganga Forest Block at Khasra Mandore village with the help of mechanical excavators in connivance with authorities without obtaining requisite permission.
As per a report, Rajasthan stood second in the country[XXII] in terms of illegal sand mining cases registered in 2018-19. This was stated by Union Mines Minister Prahlad Joshi in Lok Sabha in response to a question. Joshi said, 17,118 cases were registered in Rajasthan, while Uttar Pradesh tops the chart with 24,445 cases.
According to the data, the state government also seized 2, 93, 846 vehicles for illegally ferrying bajri. A senior official at mining department said, “In 2016-2017, 3,945 illegal mining cases were registered. This subsequently increased to registration of 6,632 cases in 2017-18”.
Rajasthan is perhaps the only state in the country which has an entire battalion of armed police dedicated for anti-mining operations, yet the mining mafia continues to expand its wings in the state. The data also made evident that mining mafia was blatantly violating SC ban by excavating bajri from riverbeds. However, Rajasthan police was not slapping stringent charges on mafiosi to put a leash on the flourishing trade. The state’s reply in the Lok Sabha read, that the state police had only lodged 2,620 FIRs between 2016 and 2019. Where in a state like Tamil Nadu, 22,956 FIRs were lodged.
The issue of illegal mining and transport of ‘bajri’ again rocked the Assembly[XXIII], on July 15, as BJP legislators stormed the Well and later walked out of the House alleging the government was not ready to reply on the matter. Deputy Leader of Opposition questioned if the state government had conducted a scientific replenishment study before issuing bajri lease deeds as directed by the SC. The minister replied that replenishment study was not required for privately owned lands.
The government was still in process of formulating[XXIV] the M sand policy as a substitute of ‘bajri’ (riverbed sand) used for construction of buildings. Though, the government had issued a limited number of mining leases for ‘bajri’ at private land, the apex court had in May 2019 stayed the auction of sand mining blocks for which LoIs were issued without getting clearance from the Environment Ministry.
Mines Minister in the State Assembly on July 16 said that 97 mining leases for ‘bajri’ were at present operative in the State, while 216 LoIs had been issued since January 8, 2019. He also said that the government was issuing mining leases to the owners of private land measuring between 1 hectare and 4 hectares, while short-term licence could be issued to the contractors of government projects for land measuring up to 1 hectare.
In July, Chambal river was seen facing threats from illegal[XXV], blatant and widespread sand mining in Dholpur district, in violation of SC directives. Around Basai Dan village large piles of sand, mined illegally from Chambal river were kept and taken to different areas of the state and UP, MP. “Our cattle cannot graze over here. And the greener area were destroyed by bringing the sand. Sand is brought over here on a daily basis from the river and dumped. It is happening due to the collusion of the police. There is no space for grazing in this. 10-15 tractors come every day,” a villager said.
In another instance showing application of new methods to mine sand illegally, a report of July 28, mentions of more than twenty locations along Chap river in Banswara where locally made hydraulics machines were being used to extract sand beneath dry riverbed. Questioning departmental actions, the report claimed that the sites were accessible by roads and sand laden trucks were transporting the minerals without any fear.
As per the report, the people involved were using engine of jeep or car to create a hydraulic machine which was sucking out sand beneath dry riverbed. The report also stated that using this techniques, smugglers were filling up one tractor load in an hour by using few litres of diesels.
Taking action against illegal sand mining in Chambal river, the Dholpur police transferred the four staff while suspending[XXVI] a chowki in-charge around August 10. It also seized forty trucks and 20 tractors involved in the activities and arrested 25 members involved in mining. On Aug 30, two persons were killed[XXVII] and five others, including a policeman, were injured in an exchange of fire between sand mafia and police.
In Sept., the Rajasthan High Court asked the principal secretary, in-charge of the mines to frame a policy of uniform approach in cases of illegal sand transportation in consultation with the police & the transport department within two months. The next hearing was to be held on Nov 11.
Court issued the direction while hearing of a petition by Khem Singh stating that in some instances of bajri transportation, FIRs were registered under MMDR (Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation) Act, while in other cases, action was taken under the Motor Vehicles Act and still in some other cases and the last category, Bajri was seized and compounded under the minor mineral concession rules. The petitioner’s counsel Moti Singh argued that further the magistrates had invariably released the offending vehicle and surprisingly in many instances, the release of vehicle through an order was without imposing a compounding fee.
Later in the month, a major controversy erupted over the biggest silica mines, located at Bhaunda village in the Vair tehsil of Bharatpur district. In a police complaint, Mukesh Chand, one partner of the mining firm, accused Atar Singh Bhadana, other partner and former Bayana MLA, of forging papers[XXVIII] to show the annulment of partnership with ulterior motives.
According to sources, Bhadana was running these mines for years. Earlier, the mine was not earning profit due to disputes. But it started making huge profits later. Silica sand mines were considered to generate huge profits compared with other mines.
On Oct. 3, the government announced creation of a Pneumoconiosis Fund, to be majorly financed by money from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF). Rajasthan is one of the leading mining states of India, with a distinction of having more than 33,000 mine leases, the highest in the country. Most of these are sandstone mines and quarries. It is also the state with a high prevalence of pneumoconiosis, including silicosis. In Rajasthan, districts like Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Ajmer have a sizeable DMF accrual each year ranging from Rs 250 crore to Rs 100 crore.
Later in the month, the government started preparing for the next hearing of sand mining lease case in the SC on Nov. 18. According to officials, the government had already submitted the replenishment study[XXIX] to the MoEF&CC. The government was looking forward to the lifting of the ban on bajri mining by the SC. However, there is no media update on the issue so far.
The two-year-old ban on mining of bajri had caused not only serious law and order problem but also large revenue losses to the government in terms of royalty. In November 2018, the govt informed the SC that it had received Rs 5,000 crore in royalties from mining in a year.
As per All Rajasthan Bajri Truck Operators Welfare Society, prior to the ban, the cost of sand was Rs 600 per tonne but now it is Rs 1,500-2,000 per tonne. Due to easy money and high profit, the ban on sand mining resulted in mushrooming of sand smugglers.
In November 2019, the Rajasthan state police distanced[XXX] itself from acting single-handedly against illegal mining. The Police Head Quarter had directed all district SPs not to act against vehicles transporting illegally mined sand without the help of mining, and revenue departments.
The instructions were issued to curb growing allegations of cops benefiting from the mining mafia. The Rajasthan police was worried over its image being sullied by cops who were found to be taking kickbacks from vehicles illegally transporting sand.
As mentioned above, in July 2019, the top brass was left red faced after a deputy SP (DSP) posted in Dholpur alleged that a deep-rooted highway extortion racket involving illegal mining in the district was being run by the SP. The ACB had also arrested several inspectors and constable for allegedly taking monthly bribes from mining mafia, which led to huge uproar within the department.
The illegal mining cases were increasing in the Ajmer district and the administration had asked for the border home guards[XXXI]. A team of home guards had arrived and was to be pressed into service to rein in illegal sand mining.
As per Dec. 3 report, the mining department Jaipur decided not to auction[XXXII] the confiscation of illegally mined sand. Instead, the sand was to be released back in the river. Before this, the mining department used to auction the seized sand for one thousand rupee per tonne.
The sand mining racket was active in Bundi district and applying new methods[XXXIII] to escape police actions. In an interesting incident on Dec. 17, a dumper driver spilled the illegally mined sand on the road when chased by the police.
The report further mentioned that the people involved in the racket quickly got that sand sold though phone calls rendering police action futile. When the driver was imposed with fine, he claimed to be carrying empty truck. Initiating raids against illegal sand mining, the Udaipur police on Dec. 23 arrested[XXXIV] 14 people and impounded 14 dumpers and 3 trucks.
Summary Like in year 2018, the SC ban on riverbed mining activities continued all through 2019 in Rajasthan, so were the cases of illegal sand mining. The govt has reportedly submitted Replenishment study as directed by the SC and now the matter is with the MoEF&CC.
The SC intervened twice on the issue, first in Feb. 2019 regarding mining activities in Aravali, then in May 2019, staying HC order of sand mines auction. The case pertaining to the ban was to come up in Nov. month but there is no update in public domain regarding the issue.
The SC ban has led to sand shortage in the state, affecting public and private construction projects. At the same time the number of smuggling cases and sand prices has gone up. As per the govt statement in the SC, it had previously received Rs 5,000 crore a year in royalties from sand mining.
The NGT also objected to sand mining activities in two plots in the Beri Ganga forest area of Jodhpur district. The case highlighted negligence on the part of the govt. Despite repeated warning the revenue map of the area was not produced before the court. The matter was listed for August 19 but there is no information spelling current status of the case.
The reports also underlined that state government was issuing mining leases on private land in violation of SC order. And administration was applying different rules to take actions against illegal sand mining cases which was not helping the cause.
The newly elected state government kept issuing statements on formation of new sand mining policy and M sand policy. However no policy has come out so far. The issue of illegal sand mining, sand shortage and government inefficiency created great uproar in state assembly in June-July. There are about 20 M sand units in the state operating in absence of government policy framework. The absence of policy was causing revenue loss of Rs 11 crore per day.
In the year, Dungarpur police, Tonk ACB and Dholpur police have taken significant actions in Feb., May and August months. Some of these clearly expose involvement of police officials in supporting illegal mining activities.
The statement of Kapil Garg, DGP is particularly revealing. The CAG report also shows that even the previous government had failed miserably to ensure sustainable sand mining practices resulting in current chaotic situation.
Sadly, eight people including villagers, labourers and smugglers lost their lives due to unlawful sand extraction activities in 2019. The Banas, Chambal, Som, Brahamani, Tumba and Retam rivers are severely affected due to illegal mining operations. The Som river incident shows mafia using advance techniques like boats with dredgers. Similarly, the illegal mining activities are seen affecting ground water table in Tonk district.
Rajasthan has more than 33,000 mine leases which is highest in the country. However, in 2018-19, with 17,118, the state stood second in registration of cases against illegal mining. Rajasthan is the only state equipped with armed police battalion dedicated for anti-mining operations. Yet, given the prevailing scenario, there is little hope that things will take any better course in the new year.
Compiled and composed by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)