The residents of villages abutting the sanctuary see sand mining as an important livelihood option because agriculture in the arid region is neither productive nor dependable. (HT Photo )
Madhya Pradesh is at the forefront of illegal sand mining activities. There have been violent attacks on government officials, reporters and villagers in recent years. The year 2019 saw change in state government and concerned people were hopeful that things will turn better now. However this overview shows not much have changed for rivers and people while attacks and fatalities continued in 2019.
In the last week of December 2018, large scale illegal sand mining through heavy machines was happening in Ken river in Panna and Chhatarpur district of Bundelkhand region. Sources said that ever since the Congress came to power[I], its local leaders were keen to get their share of sand. Incidents of firing were reported thick and fast in these areas along with a new trend- of armed private security guards of mafias opening fire before mining sand. A sand mining company had reportedly also registered a complaint of loot of more than Rs. 2 lakh.
Before this, over 300 farmers including around 50 women, started ‘Jal Satyagrah’ by entering the waters of the Ken river to protest against sand mining[II] near Kolawal Raipur in Girwan area which was damaging their crops. As per Naraini SDM Awadhesh Kumar Srivastava, the company involved in the sand mining deviated from the allotted place and made a temporary bridge on the river to make passage for the sand-laden trucks.
In January the Kaithan river in Ashok Nagar started drying up due to unsustainable mining[III] of sand. As per the locals the river was perennial and used to irrigate large areas but large scale illegal mining was damaging the river course and making it stagnant or dry even before the summer season. The fishermen also stated that the river was rich in fish and aquatic diversity but now was facing existential threat.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report, tabled in the state assembly on January 10, 2019, indicted the state mineral resources department[IV] for the “half-hearted implementation” of District Mineral Foundation (DMF). While the new sand mining policy, announced in December 2017 prescribed that Rs 50 per cubic metre out of the royalty on sand shall be paid to the DMF, the state government did not prescribe any contribution to the DMF in respect to other minor minerals until April 2018.
CAG auditors also highlighted that the department was working with insufficient manpower and had no Internal Audit Wing or Departmental Manual. The performance audit also highlighted the failure of the department to monitor compliance to the conditions laid down by the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) while granting environmental clearances (EC) for sand mining. About the implementation of environmental management plans, the department failed to ensure submission of quarterly returns prescribed for monitoring the same. Thus, the department exhibited scant commitment to assess the impacts of sand mining activities on the environment, observed the CAG. The previous government deliberately did not disclose the CAG report sent to it on August 3, 2018.
The new government had promised to curb the menace and reform the mining sector, but did nothing significant[V] in first few months of taking charge. As per the report, most of the anti-mining judgments passed by NGT in 2013-14 were against the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Quoting Vinayak Parihar an activist, a First Post report mentioned that the CAG report estimated a revenue loss of Rs 600 crore due to illegal sand mining. However the actual loss may be much more. According to Parihar assessment, the state had lost over Rs 2 lakh crore in the last 10 years, which was more than the debt burden on the Madhya Pradesh government. He also claimed that 90 percent of sand mining sites in the state are illegal.
As per the latest figures released by the government, in 2016-17, the state earned Rs 240 crore royalty from sand mining. Talking about the ecological loss, Parihar said, “Sand mining had destroyed the Narmada. There were over 20 spots in a 15-20-km stretch where the river was drying up for a few months. We are demanding a CBI probe or a state-level SIT from the new government.” He was, however, not hopeful of any action from the new government, and suspected that its ministers and MLAs were involved in illegal sand mining.
According to a reply given in the Rajya Sabha by the government on 7 February, 2018, Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of attacks on media persons in 2015 and 2016, recording 19 and 24 cases, respectively. And most of the attacks were related to illegal sand mining cases. In December 2017, at least six journalists were attacked and injured in Chhatarpur district while they were covering illegal sand mining.
The new Minister for Mineral Resources Pradeep Jaiswal agreed that illegal sand mining was the biggest challenge for the government and added that government was working on a new policy, to be named ‘Navin Khanij Kar Evam Ret Niti’ (New Minerals and Sand Policy). The minister also talked of undoing the monopoly of few companies and involving village level societies to create employment and control illegal mining, at the same time doubling the sand mining revenue.
Early in February the state government planned to constitute Narmada Trust[VI] Act and separate trusts for Tapti, Mandakini and Kshipra rivers to stop illegal sand mining and for conservation activities. The government had drafted a format for the purpose and sent it for approval of finance and general administration departments.
Probably in the first violent incident of the year, a driver of a tractor trolley – laden with sand illegally mined from the Chambal river attempted to crush a forest ranger[VII] in the vicinity of Badokhar village on February 3.
Suspecting violence and gangwar in the sand mines of Ken river in Bundelkhand, Chhattarpur district administration imposed prohibitory orders[VIII] under section 144 in the mine areas and also barred people from carrying arms in the mining areas of the district. The administration had banned use of heavy machines in the mines. The administration swung into action on February 26 after the leaders of the BJP and Congress traded charges of indulging in illegal sand mining in Ken river area.
The Narmada, Betwa and Ken rivers were rapidly drying up[IX] while Chambal, Kshipra and Kahn were getting severely polluted due to sand mining, dams, deforestation and industrial and domestic discharges.
Even the small tributaries like Bina river was succumbing to illegal sand mining[X] in Sagar district. It was main source of water supply for the city however due to rampant mining the water level in the river was found dropping sharply even before summer months.
In another new trend on the banks of the Narmada river, the sand mafia was using jetties and boats[XI] to not just extract sand, but also transport it across districts. The new water transport route became a convenient alternative to dangerous and expensive road transport. The stretch of the Narmada river passing through Dhar, Harda, Dewas, Sehore, and Narsinghpur districts was witnessing the new method far away from any policing or gang conflict.
After extraction, the sand was then pumped into the boat and transported to collection centres. At these collection spots, which were inter-district borders, tractors ferried the sand to godowns, markets or even directly to construction sites. In case the authorities spotted them, they diverted the boat towards the other side of the river. Police was unable to chase because they neither had the boats nor the training to handle the turbulent waters of the Narmada.
The illegal mining activities were proving a threats to wildlife[XII] including Gharial in Chambal Sanctuary where it was banned by Supreme Court 13 years ago. The officials secretly accepted that there was not let up in illegal sand mining from both sides of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
The illegal sand mining was rampant in Chambal area[XIII] falling in Gwalior. The sand mafia was getting bolder and audacious by the day. Despite tell-tale signs of tractors criss-crossing the banks of the rivers in the division and trucks laden with illegal sand thundering on the highways the administration seemed to be helpless and clueless to check the illegal activity.
Places like Morena, Bhind, Bhitarwar, Datia and Dabra had become the hotspots of this illegal mining. The fleet of hundreds of trucks ferrying the sand was clear indication that the state administration, police and mining department were hand in gloves with sand mafia.
On the other hand, after Ken, illegal sand mining was posing threat to Dhasan river[XIV] in drought-prone Bundelkhand. Excessive mining was taking place in Dhasan with jugaad pandoobis in Nowgaon tehsil where heavy machines were playing havoc with its ghats and disrupting its flow.
In March, with water crisis looming large, the local villagers were up-in-arms against the sand mining. After seeing heavy machines damaging the ghats and mounds of sand blocking river flow, the villagers even pelted stones in protest. Villagers alleged that mining was happening outside the allotted areas and the district administration was tight-lipped over the issue.
Interestingly the BJP and Congress parties were united in protecting the interests of those involved in illegal sand mining in Chambal sanctuary. They even promised to denotify parts of the Chambal sanctuary[XVI], which spans 425 kms (covering MP, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) so that sand mining could flourish in those parts.
In May, the Hoshangabad Lok Sabha constituency was facing one-sided battle[XVII] between the traditional Congress and BJP candidates with core issues of illegal sand mining and depleting forest cover remaining unattended. So intense was the impact of illegal mining in the catchment areas of Tawa and Narmada rivers that the water table in several areas had depleted to two to five feet in the past six months, ahead of the summer season.
On May 17, Arushi Jain, SDM Ajaygarh in Panna district alleged that a local Congress leader threatened her and forcibly freed a confiscated sand-laden truck[XVIII] linked to illegal sand mining operations in the area. In a letter written to the district collector, she also claimed a police officer misbehaved with her and refused to follow orders. She even asked for police protection.
Ms Jain was frequently confronting illegal sand mining activities and confiscated several trucks, including the one belonging to the Congress leader. In March, her team and she demolished a illegal 20-metre-long bridge built by the mafia to facilitate the mining and transportation of sand on Ken river.
In its first cabinet meeting after the Lok Sabha elections and end of model code of conduct, the state government on May 27 decided to change the existing mining policy[XIX] by banning mechanised mining from Narmada. Contrary to government initial plans of involving local panchayats, PC Sharma, Minister for Law said that mining lease would be given to companies via auction not for more than two years at a time. He further said that the panchayats would continue to get the payment of royalty which was increased by Rs 50 to Rs 75 per cubic metre. As per minister, the former state government had received just Rs 69 crore as revenue from royalties in last financial year due to rampant theft of sand through illegal mining and estimated that his government’s policy would increase revenue to Rs 900 crore.
Amid this two government reports cited threat to the existence of a bridge[XX] on Ken river in Panna district due to illegal mining through machines. The interstate bridge connecting Mahoba and Bandaa districts of Uttar Pradesh with Panna in Madhya Pradesh could be washed away if the mining continues, reports said. Excessive mining adjacent to its pillars had exposed its plinth endangering the structure. A spot inspection by engineers of Rural Engineering Department – an SDO- revealed that sand was mined to the depth of 3 meters to 4 meters right beneath the pillars of the bridge.
Surprisingly the flows in Ken river were dropping rapidly[XXI] fueling the water crisis in the region and the unabated mining practices had further aggravated the situation. As a result the government had to employ police force[XXII] to guard the river.
In a tragic incident, five labourers were killed[XXIII] when an illegal sand mine caved in on June 22 afternoon near Chhota Barda village on banks of Narmada river in Barwani district. Following the incident, villagers started protest against the incident demanding stern action against tractor driver. They did not allow police to take bodies of the labourers for post mortem examination. As per villagers sand mining was being done illegally in the area for a long time and administration had turned a deaf ears to their repeated complaints. The administration accepted that it was illegal mining happening on government land.
In the third incident of attack on government officials in the state in 2019, a Nayab Tehsildar was attacked allegedly[XXIV] by associates of a sand mafia in Hoshangabad on July 19 night while he was on his way to carry out a raid at an illegal sand mining site. The official, Atul Srivastava, was injured after his private vehicle was stopped and he was attacked by a group of men. The attackers, however, said that they attacked him on suspicion of child-lifting, a claim rejected by the officials. Fifteen people were detained while efforts were on to nab 10 others. Officials also seized 15 tractors and trollies, two JCB machines along with other tools used in illegal mining.
There were multiple news reports showing that Ken River in Bundelkhand was being severely impacted[XXV] by illegal sand mining operations. In open violation of laws, the mafia was 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 had become key factor in worsening water crisis this year in Banda. While government officials were well aware of illegal mining activities and its implications, they failed to stop it.
In another bizarre incident on July 22, a group of labourers involved in illegal sand mining threatened to commit suicide[XXVI] as it was the only source of income for them. The incident happened when tehsildar RC Khatediya along with his team had gone to conduct raid at Kumharkheda after receiving information that illegal sand mining was underway near Kunda river, 12 km from district headquarters. The miners had fled the spot with earth mover and some tractor trolleys. However a tractor-trolley on which a filter was installed was seized from the spot. The team also seized sand and motor pumps kept to clean soil from sand.
Amid political slugfest over illegal sand mining, CM Kamal Nath on Aug. 30 said that his government’s new mining policy with stricter[XXVII] regulations would be implemented within two months. The sporadic incidents of illegal mining continued to pour from various districts with complaints from Congress ministers and MLAs against local authorities.
The matter drew wider attention when senior cabinet minister Govind Singh stirred a political debate and alleged that sand mafia was looting the state and the government was unable to stop them. He also said that 90% of policemen and 10% of mining officials were involved in illegal sand and stone mining businesses and plundering natural resources. Even a town inspector (TI) is making Rs 50 lakh a month, he alleged.
In his letter to the CM, Bhargava, Leader of Opposition in Assembly on August 28 alleged that the administration[XXVIII] was not receiving the revenues in proportion to the business of sand mining going on in the state. He also warned of sitting on a hunger strike if the administration failed to take action against the illegal sand mining.
Around the same time, a video showing a police official negotiating[XXIX] with the mining mafia surfaced, revealing that the illegal activity was being done with the complicity of the police. As soon as the matter came to light, the Director General of Police VP Singh shifted the Sub-divisional Officer, S.N. Pathak from Patan to the Police Headquarters on August 27. Inspector General of Police of Chambal, D.P. Gupta, ordered the Superintendent of Police of Bhind to intensify checking of illegal mining and transportation.
In the first week of October, a news report broke that sand mining lease in the state would now be allotted for three years instead of two like previous years. It further said that after implementing the new mining rules[XXX], the state government was likely to open the tender process from October. 4. With the new guidelines in place, the government expected to earn Rs 600 crore revenue every year. In 2018-19, the state had earned Rs 69 crore. 43 districts have sand mines, 1,438 mines were identified and of them 400 were new mines.
Once allotted, the contractor would pay increased royalty of 10% per year and continue to operate the mines for three years. In the new mining policy, the government had banned storage and sale of sand within two kilometres from a mine. Moreover, the policy stated only licenced contractors or ones having a mining lease would be allowed to sell sand within 50 kilometres from any sanctioned sand quarry. In quarries having an area of more than 5 ha, the local labourers would be given priority.
As per another report, mines were found in 43 districts[XXXI] and accordingly district-wise groups were formed. The largest group belonged to Hoshangabad district, whose reserve price was reported as Rs 96 crore. A total of five districts are of a reserve price of Rs 25 crore or more and 23 districts were kept at a reserve price of Rs 10 crore or less. According to the new rules, gram panchayats in which these mines were located would get the amount of local development more than before. The district would also get the amount of local development under District Mineral Fund (DMF).
As per November 14 report, the mining operations would not start before next year[XXXIII]. This pushed back ongoing the auction procedure. The mining department had invited online tenders for lease of mines till November 26. From November 27 onwards, the technical bids was to be opened from Bhopal and Hoshangabad divisions till December 2. After scrutiny of technical bids between December 7 and December 12, financial bids were to be opened.
After this, the bidders would be asked to deposit money in 10 days. To get other essential permissions from environment, mining and pollution departments would take almost a month before started the mining. According to the new mining policy, auction would be held in district-wise groups. The offset price would vary, depending on the number of mines and availability of sand. The offset price of Hoshangabad is a maximum Rs 96 crore. The offset price of five districts is more than Rs 25 crore.
On November 16, the Computer Baba, a Self-proclaimed godman and chairman of the river trust for Narmada, Kshipra and Mandakini announced that he would deploy 2000 sadhus[XXXIV] on the banks of rivers to keep a check on illegal mining. On a two-day visit to Budelkhand’s Tikamgarh, Panna, and Chattarpur district, Baba visited the banks of Ken river to apprise himself of the illegal sand mining taking place along the water body.
Chairman of river trust and some seers maintained a “vigil” close to the Narmada river[XXXV] banks in Sehore district to prevent illegal mining of sand. The erstwhile BJP government had bestowed the minister of state status on Baba alias Namdev Tyagi and also appointed him on a panel to clean the Narmada river.
The month of December was full of news reports highlighting various developments regarding the sand mining sector. On December 3, taking actions against illegal mining activities in Vidisha district, the district administration, police and mining departments seized a poclain machine, 50 sand laden trolleys[XXXVI] and destroyed the locally made ‘pandoobi’ boat. The report further stated that Badan Singh Raghuvanshi a BJP leader was involved in illegal sand mining from Bah river in Hinotia village area for the past twenty years. The report also mentioned of illegal mining in Sagad river and other areas.
In the first week of December the government auctioned 36 mines[XXXVII] across the state earing Rs 1234 crore. According to principal Secretary of the Mining department and MD of State Mining Corporation Neeraj Mandloi, in past three years, the revenue generation[XXXVIII] through mining was below Rs 250 crore per year. In the year 2016-17, the revenue of sand mining was Rs 240 crore, in 2017-18 Rs 249 crore and in the year 2018-19, it was Rs 223 crore. Besides the group of 36 districts, the process of tender in seven districts is still in the process. In all these 43 districts, the reserve Government price was fixed at Rs 475 crore.
Meanwhile there were reports of illegal sand mining in Bhuteda[XL] nala in Ratlam, Dhasan and Saprar rivers[XLI] in Chhatarpur, Chambal, Shivana, Retam and Reva rivers[XLII] in Mandsor, Narmada river in Aliganj[XLIII]. In Aliganj incident the police also seized 4 pokland, 1 JCB machine and 1 dumper.
In a first, the state government proposed sand mining contracts in Bargi[XLIV], Tawa, Indira Sagar and Bansagar dams in second week of the month. Before Madhya Pradesh, the government of Maharashtra had considered similar plans but did not proceed ahead. The proposal was cleared at the secretaries’ committee level and was to be sent to the cabinet for final clearance. Also the dams in the state are full due to the bountiful rain this year and the government has to calculate the amount of sand that can be mined from the dams.
As per the report, the government had earned around Rs 1,234 crore in auction of river sand mines in 36 districts. Tenders for six districts, including Shahdol, Ujjain, Guna, Rajgarh, Shahjapur and Agar Malwa, were floated again on December 13. In 2018-19, the government had earned just Rs 223 crore when the sand mines were with panchayats.
On December 21, twenty five gharials were released[XLV] in the Ken sanctuary in Chhatarpur. Last time gharials were reintroduced in Ken way back in 2007. Excessive illegal sand mining on the banks of the river was main reason for the gradual disappearance of the endangered reptiles from the sanctuary.
Though the Ken sanctuary was founded in 1985, gharials could never breed in large numbers in the river like their cousins in Chambal. After their population dwindled, they were reintroduced in 2007. But, soon the numbers started declining again. Experts believe illegal sand mining as the main reason behind the decline in their numbers. Illegal sand mining is a common threat to the highly endangered species in three sanctuaries — Chambal, Ken and Son.
As per a report of December 20, several politicians and MLAs[XLVI] particularly of BJP were involved in running illegal sand mining business. On December 24, the women and child development minister of state, Imarti Devi wrote a letter to CM Kamal Nath requesting him to allow sand mining in six mines[XLVII] of Gwalior district. Mentioning that the Department of Minerals had given the green signal for the 6 sand mines in Dabra area to be operational, she alleged[XLVIII] that the Gwalior district administration had imposed a ban on the practice, leading to a shortage of supply of sand in the region. The issue turned into a political controversy and the opposition leader blamed[XLIX] the government for facilitating[L] illegal sand mining.
All through the month, there was intense rivalry[LI] between Food Minister Pradhyuman Singha and Imarti Devi two prominent ministers of state government. Both were stated to be close to Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and were fighting over allocation of 61 mines to their supporters.
Amid this, a man was killed[LII] on Dec. 25 evening after two rival groups of sand mafia opened fire at each other over mining rights of a quarry in Bhind district. After banning sand mining near river Chambal, the administration had allotted several sand quarries to private contractors in Bhind. However, several illegal sand mining activities were underway in the district. These illegal quarries often led to rival miners coming face-to-face.
On same day, a JCB machine was seized[LIII] by police team in Bhind district while the people involved in illegal mining managed to flee. The district administration also ordered recovery[LIV] of Rs 1.89 crore from a person for mining 18.900 thousands square metre sand illegally from Baiseli river. Similarly in a 2010 murder case[LV] of a person working in a sand mine in Panna, a local court sentenced two people to life imprisonment apart from a fine of 2.72 lakh. In Shivpuri districts two police staff were suspended[LVI] for being involved in taking money from illegal sand miners.
Reacting on murder case, the Mine Minister Pradeep Jaiswal said that such incidents keep happening in Bhind. The minster said the government would implement new mining policy and had so far filed 1330 cases of illegal mining[LVII], 8294 cases of illegal sand transportation and 531 cases of illegal storage of sand. Jaiswal said the government has received Rs 1,234 crore offers under the new sand mining policy. As per minister, the Minerals Department had earned[LVIII] Rs 2,226.85 crore so far during the current financial year and Rs 34.12 crore had been earned through fines against illegal mining and transportation or storage of minerals.
Revealing the ground realities, an informative report mentioned that the situation of illegal sand mining had only worsened in the state and no government had been successful in controlling the menace. Blaming the involvement of politicians, administration with the sand mafia the report stated that Madhya Pradesh had emerged at third place[LIX] in illegal mining activities. In 2013-14 there were 6725 cases of illegal sand mining which had increased by 150 per cent to 16405 in the year 2018-19. The report also mentioned that so far 52,803 cases of illegal sand mining were registered in the state but only 3005 vehicles were impounded, a meagre fine of 1,52,108 was collected and FIR was lodged only in 542 cases.
A December 29 report showing the excesses of mining company[LX] mentioned that the company in Buhranpur dug 15 feet deep trenches to prevent mafia from mining the sand from Tapti and Utawali rivers. The act of the company also blocked the access of villagers to the rivers and their farmlands.
Before the end of the year, a Lady Tahsildar, Revenue Officials were attacked by sand mafia[LXI] in Hoshangabad for acting against illegal sand mining. They also took away 4[LXII] sand laden trolleys. Before this in April, on June 26, July 19 government officials were attacked. As we have entered year 2020, the incidents of illegal sand mining are still going on[LXIII].
Summary Though the government has changed in the state, there is no let-up in the cases of illegal riverbed bed mining activities. The present government had made it an election promise to rein in the illegal sand mining in the rivers. However the reports show that rivers are increasingly suffering the impacts of unsustainable excavation.
It is worth to mention the that Madhya Pradesh is among the five states[LXIV] which have been served notices including central government and CBI by the SC to respond to a plea that sought investigation into illegal sand mining and termination of leases of entities concerned.
Targeting increase in revenue, the government has brought in new mining policy which has excluded the gram panchayat and included the companies. Yet given the account, it is clear that the state continues to be hotspot of unlawful mechanized sand extraction.
Six people lost their lives in the year in illegal sand mining activities including death of five labour in June in Barwani district and murder of a person in Bhind district in December month. Round the year, the administration seems busy acting against the mining mafias. There were four reported attacks on government officials. Similarly, the involvement of police officials, politicians, ministers in brazen loot of minor mineral has apparently become a routine affair. The illegal miners also seem using new methods to pilferage sand while avoiding police actions. The use of jetties boats and pumps in Narmada river is new trend successful in making police look helpless.
The riverbank communities, farmers, fishermen continue to be at the receiving end of the mechanized mining operation of which not much is reported. Likewise the severe and adverse impact of unabated mining activities on aquatic eco-system and wildlife has remained under reported. Some reports do mention of impact illegal mining on ghariyal population in Chambal, Ken and Son sanctuary. Despite failing to check illegal mining, the government has released 25 ghariyals in Ken sanctuary which were previously eliminated reportedly on account of mining activities.
The unsustainable mining activities in 2019 have also aggravated water scarcity during summer months especially in Bundelkhand. Reports of big rivers like Narmada, Ken, Dhasan, Betwa etc. and smaller tributaries turning drier, emphasize that its not just mining of sand but also robbing the rivers of base flows. Government may have been successful in increasing the revenue for sand mining, but rivers’ eco-system, environment continue to face irreversible damages and riverine people paying heavy price for unsustainable and mechanized illegal sand mining operations.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)