Most of the Indian states have been facing multiple environmental issues on account of unsustainable riverbed mining activities. Mechanized excavation, nexus between politicians-administration-mafia, violent attacks on people have become common features of the illegal sand trade across the country. The rampant mining of natural resource is also severely impacting rivers, wildlife and groundwater table. And the state of Gujarat is no exception to all this as shows the year end overview.
With the beginning of 2019, the cases of illegal sand mining and violence and damage to infrastructure continued in Gujarat. Late on January 1 night, a 45-year-old man was shot dead[i] over dispute related to sand mining. According to complainant Zabeer Rathwa, villagers of Motikanas village and Khadakwada village close to Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border in Chhota Udepur were at loggerheads with each other regarding the limits of the river bed of Orsnag river, cutting through both the villages.
Then around January 3, the rampant mining activities were found posing danger to the aqueduct[ii] of Narmada main canal that crosses over the Osrang river in Bodeli. Sand mining had increased the depth of the river bed, exposing the foundation piles of the aqueduct. Some of the foundation pillars were even damaged last year.
Amid this, the government’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) surveillance project[iii] to track illegal sand mining across the riverbeds claimed 48 per cent success. Most of the missions returned unsuccessful due to difficulty in operating after dusk. In the 22 successful missions, the department had imposed a penalty of Rs 13.96 crore and filed four FIRs. According to officials, the UAV missions were flown after the department received “intelligence” about illegal mining happening on the river-beds.
However, most of the missions returned without success, especially from the Sabarmati riverbed, as most of the mining activity was happening during the night, officials said. To overcome this, the Geology & Mining Department was now looking to source drones with infrared capability. Apart from surveillance, the department was also planning to conduct a volumetric analysis of the pits that had already been dug by illegal miners in the rivers.
One more report shows that the government’s claims of drone surveillance to stop illegal mining was proving inefficient[iv]. The report further revealed that two types of illegal sand mining were happening the state; first one being extraction of more sand than permitted in legally leased mine in more than 60 rivers by digging deeper than allowed and second mining without permission.
Jawahar Chavda and Lalit Vasoya, the two Congress MLAs, alleged that the illegal sand mining was the result of a nexus between various departments of the government, including the police, the mining and geology department and the road transport wing.
Vasoya, the MLA from Dhoraji in Rajkot district, who was running a campaign against pollution and illegal sand mining in Bhadar also said that despite raising the issue in the state Assembly and on other forums, the menace was going unabated due to nexus between police and other departments and the sand mafia. He further claimed that roughly 400 trucks sand were being mined illegally from the river daily. As per the report, illegal mining was rampant in Osrang river and the sand mafia was very politically powerful hence locals including journalists were afraid of taking action against them.
On March 19, an illegal sand mining racket was busted[v] and 105 tonne sand and equipment worth crores of rupees were seized by the police following a raid on the bank of the river Und in Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar. Though no person was arrested, the police seized 14 dumper trucks (eight filled with sand), two tractors and an earthmover from the bank of river Und on the outskirts of village Badanpar. Jodiya police sub-inspector J C Gohil accepted that it was going on for past three months. He also said that because the Bhadar river was exhausted with sand the racketeers had turned to the Und river where no lease was given.
A massive illegal sand mining scam was unearthed[vi] at the site of the statue of unity. About 4.85 lakh tonnes of sand was siphoned off from the land allotted to build the Tribal Museum at the Statue of Unity site in Kevadiya. The sand stolen from the site was worth more than Rs 7 crore at first estimate which could increase after the investigation.
In a tragic incident three people were drowned to death[vii] in Sabarmati River, during Ganesh Immersion close to Apollo Circle in Gandhinagar on September 3. Illegal sand mining had left around 50 metres deep pits on the riverbed and the people doing immersion were caught unawares and plunged to death. After this, two more people, both residents of Odhav, died while immersing a Ganpati idol near the bridge close to Apollo Circle on September 6.
Mahesh Mod, Chief Fire Officer, Fire and Emergency Services, accepted that the three deaths were a result of illegal mining by the sand mafia which caused riverbed to suddenly plunge to depths of 25-50 meters. He also said that in 2018, about 10 people had died in similar manner.
Illegal mining all along Sabarmati riverbed in Gandhinagar was rampant and supported by political-official-sand mafia nexus. According to one more official, during nights huge hydraulic trucks were filled with sand using JCBs. Most of them had no permits for sand mining, while tractors and trailers were operating round the clock.
On October 15, a sand mining racket operating in Samakhiyali town of Kutch was busted[viii] by police. Those involved in the racket were illegally mining sand from Adhoi riverbed. Police also seized one tractor, four dumper trucks and one earthmover from the site. The case was handed over to state mines and minerals department for further action and valuation of the mined minerals.
A scam of illegal sand mining using duplicate royalty pass was unearthed[ix] by the mines and minerals department of Chhota Udepur district. The scandal came to light while conducting primary investigation in a suspicious royalty pass found from a truck driver in Naswadi on October 17. Nine persons including three from Surat were booked for theft, forgery, criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy and under The Gujarat Mineral (Prevention of Illegal Mining and Transportation and Storage) Rules at Naswadi police station. Police said that the scam was to load sand from any lease or non-lease area in the district and issue a forged royalty pass so that there would not be any hurdles from the mines and minerals department.
On November 14, a 43-year-old man, Mukesh Darbar of Jetalpur, who had informed mines and minerals department officials about illegal sand mining in Narol, was beaten up by people involved in illegal mining of sand.
Summary So, the year 2019 began and ended with violent attacks on people involved or opposing illegal mining of riverbed sand. The government’s drone surveillance techniques has limitations and could not deter the sand mafia from robbing rivers of precious mineral. The reports show support of politicians, police officers in conducting an organized plundering of sand.
Like previous year, it may look that police took action in several cases, however the number of instances reveal that government has failed in nabbing the culprits and there are scams taking place non-stop. Illegal mining was happening even in legally auctioned mine. The death of 5 people by getting drowned in sand mine pits in Sabarmati is quite shocking. Apart from this one person was killed in illegal sand mining dispute and one was attacked for informing the police of illegal mining activities. In terms of rivers, the Osrang, Bhadar, Und were particularly facing the threats due to unsustainable sand mining practices, as per available reports.
The Gujarat government has amended[x] the Gujarat District Mineral Foundation (Amendment) Rules, 2019, three time in the year and also brought two resolution concerning the sand mining sector. These changes need to be looked thoroughly. The mines and geology website is functioning better and it also has dedicated numbers for registering complaints regarding illegal mining and transporting of sand. Hope the state government takes more effective steps in New Year to stop unsustainable sand mining practices in Gujarat.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Post Script:- As per a report, of the 38,100 odd cases of illegal mining registered in Gujarat during the last five years, FIRs) were filed against suspects in only 2.16 percent of the cases. Compared to 5,463 cases of illegal mining registered in the state between July 2014 and June 2015, the number of cases rose to 7,340 by the end of June 2019. This was an increase of 34.4 percent, states the data shared by the state government as a written reply to an unstarred question asked by Congress MLA from Siddhpur, Chandanji Thakor in the recently concluded fifth session of the state Assembly.
During this five year period, a total of 38,117 cases of illegal mining were registered across different districts. The maximum cases have been registered in Chhota Udepur (3,101), followed by Surat (2,794) and Rajkot (2,014). Districts like Surendranagar (1,775), Ahmedabad (1,719) and Sabarkantha (1,626) also had a high number of such cases. Even Kutch, which is considered an important centre for mining activities, saw 1,084 cases of illegal mining being recorded.
The highest number of FIRs were filed in Gir Somnath district of Saurashtra, where 981 cases of illegal mining were reported. The second highest number of FIRs were lodged in Kutch (106). In the three districts of Chhota Udepur, Surat and Rajkot that clocked the highest number of illegal mining cases, the number of FIRs lodged were 52, 56 and 20 respectively.
Giving reason behind low FIRs, DM Shukla, Additional Director, Commissioner of Geology and Mining (CGM), said that FIRs were lodged only when accused failed to pay. He also said that in the last five years, a total of Rs 280.46 crore was recovered as penalty in connection with illegal mining in Gujarat and contended that there were only 3,433 cases of illegal mining registered in Gujarat during the period and the rest were cases related to illegal transportation and storage of stolen or unaccounted mineral stocks.
In response to a question on the high number of illegal mining cases in Chotta Udepur, Surat and Rajkot, the CGM official stated that main reason for illegal mining in Chhota Udepur and Surat was due to better quality of sand and proximity of these district to interstate borders of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Talking about illegal mining in Rajkot, he further added that the mining was banned in Shetrunji river by HC leading to increase in mining from Bhadar river. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/firs-filed-in-2-16-of-38100-cases-of-illegal-mining-in-state-6194379/ (1 Jan. 2020)