In April May 2020, local people and media reports have highlighted riverbed mining practices going on in the Yamuna river impacting river eco-system and riparian communities in gross violation of lock down norms during the Covid 19 crisis.
The first case is reported from Yamuna Nagar district, Haryana on April 30, 2020 by Times of India, where miners had created a bund across the river in the Gumthala-Jathlana area impending the natural flow of the river.
The local administration had taken cognizance of the issue and had also started an inquiry but there is no information on what disciplinary actions have been taken against the violators. The matter was also brought to the attention of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HPCB) that too promised action, however the board has not shared what action it has taken. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/miners-develop-makeshift-passages-over-yamuna-river-obstruct-its-natural-flow/articleshow/75460915.cms (30 April 2020)
The second case is reported on May 11 in Rashtriya Jung Times a local news portal describing of mechanized in-stream sand mining and construction of a makeshift bund in river Yamuna around Nangla Rai village of Kairana block in Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh. https://rashtriyajungtimes.page/article/nangalaaraee-mein-yuddhastar-par-shuroo-hua-khanan-ka-khel/c-5L9l.html (11 May 2020)
Hundreds of riverbed farmers from nearby villages have been using the stretch for cultivation of traditional crops for years. Seeing the destruction and impact of brazen mining activities, they shot couple of videos showing the illegalities and protesting against it, also submitted a complaint in writing to district magistrate, Shamli.
Since the river forms boundary between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the villagers and farmers in Haryana side also fear flood threats during the monsoon as the river naturally flows towards Haryana state and the embankment created to protect human habitation has been breached in past and remains threatened during every annual flood event. But they are afraid of raising their voice as last year some famers and a reporter had been framed under false charges for objecting to destructive mechanized mining of river Yamuna. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smZdyavqksE&feature=emb_title (10 June 2019)
The issue has been brought to the notice of Haryana SPCB, which accepting the illegal mining has assured raising the issue with its counterpart in Uttar Pradesh claiming that the mining is allotted by government of Uttar Pradesh. But no update has been shared on the issue by the department so far.
It is learnt that following villagers intervention, district administration Shamli including SDM and officials from mining department have visited that site and has allegedly told villagers to avoid conflicts with sand miners claiming them to be very powerful. They have also ‘advised’ villagers not to venture to the area during nights.
These practices have become rampant in the area along the river. Last year too similar incidents were reported from there but in absence of adequate measures and disciplinary actions, the miners have become habitual offenders taking the river and system for granted and adversely affecting the river dependent communities including villagers, farmers, marginal riverbed farmers for whom sand patches have been source of sustenance in the form of cultivation of traditionally grown zaid crops.
These incidents are just samples and the stretch of Yamuna flowing between Hathini Kund Barrage and Sonipat district have become among the worst riverbed mining affected stretches in country in last three years. https://sandrp.in/2020/01/22/haryana-riverbed-mining-2019-yamuna-robbed-of-minerals-flows/ (22 Jan. 2020)
Blocking of river’s natural flow, deep in-stream mining seems to have become a common practice along the river in upper segment. So are the air, noise pollution, damages to interior roads by heavy trucks, converting the relatively calm river areas into industrial war zone, besides violent attacks on villagers by people involved in mining activities. https://sandrp.in/2019/11/22/rampant-unsustainable-riverbed-mining-in-yamuna-basin/ (22 Nov. 2019)
In October 2019, audit of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for Revenue sector ending March 2019 has explicitly exposed the loopholes in mining sector of Haryana. The audit found losses to the tune of Rs. 5000 crores between 2012 and 2017 in Haryana due to illegal mining activities.
Similarly the audit referred to Google Earth images marked the illegal mining carried out by miners outside the allotted area at two locations causing losses of crores to the state exchequer. As per the report the mining department has insufficient resources to deal with the illegal riverbed mining activities including human resources. https://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Report_No_4_of_2019_Revenue_Sector_Government_of_Haryana.pdf
In fact, this has been accepted by Mining Officer, Yamuna Nagar during a telephonic conversation regarding action on illegal mining activities. The mining department has no internal audit wing which was pointed out by CAG in 2003-2004 audit and the department is also facing shortage of staff to the extent of about 80 per cent. https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/mining-muddle-after-cong-ambush-govt-orders-in-house-probe-into-mining-scam/story-0iDgqQ8JCv7HmOM4DB26WN.html (05 Dec. 2019)
Sadly the state mining department and SPCB have been evading responsibility and simply blaming each other for the sorry state of affairs. The State Mining Minister has accepted that illegal mining was going on in the state under full police protection.
Notably, it was Haryana which faced worst mining activities in last decade and became the basis of landmark Supreme Court judgement of February 27, 2012 embarking on a series of rules to be followed by respective state governments. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/60071241/
There are reports suggesting about 6 people including two kids dying and so many getting severely injured due to illegal sand mining related accidents in the Haryana state. https://sandrp.in/2020/01/22/haryana-riverbed-mining-2019-yamuna-robbed-of-minerals-flows/ (22 Nov. 2019)
The state of affair in hilly states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are not very different.
In 2019, and recently, the threat to Dakpathar Barrage safety and Shakti Canal structure in Vikas Nagar, Uttarakhand have surfaced on account of heavy trucks in large numbers using the roads, barrage to transport riverbed minerals. https://www.livehindustan.com/uttarakhand/vikasnagar/story-road-sinking-threatens-shakti-canal-3205818.html (10 May 2020) https://www.devbhoomimedia.com/illegal-mining-going-on-in-dakpathar-area/ (08 March 2019)
In February 2020, the state government of Uttarakhand is learnt to have passed a River Training Policy to facilitate large scale mechanized mining in the rivers of state including Yamuna. There are news reports also highlighting the impact of this policy on riverbank and farmlands adjoining the river resulting in agitations by local people. https://sandrp.in/2020/05/02/uttarakhand-riverbed-mining-2020-rivers-people-revenue-robbed/ (02 May 2020)
In April 2019, SANDRP during a field visit had found that Yamuna river was being illegally mined at Lakhwar in Vikas Nagar to supply construction material to 120 Mw Vyashi hydro electric project. The local people had openly registered their protest to the project developer and local administration however no action was taken against the miners on the contrary villagers were harassed and pressurised to stop their protest. https://sandrp.in/2019/04/23/lakhwar-vyasi-dam-different-reality-before-the-window-dressing-for-eac/ (23 April 2029)
Moreover, on its April, 23, 2020 meeting the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) have deferred two proposals of mining in River Yamuna and Song in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand asking the governments to submit district survey reports and conduct through study to assess the impact of such mining in upstream and downstream areas of rivers.
The government of Himachal Pradesh has sought approval for riverbed minerals mining on 54.668 hectare of land in Yamuna river in Sirmaur district. Similarly the government of Uttarakhand has sought proposal for carrying out mining in 64 hectare area in Song river in Dehradun. Both the proposals also include felling of trees along the rivers bank and MoEF&CC seems forcing the FAC to accept its decision. http://forestsclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/FAC_Minutes/51111121912211FACminutes23April20_compressed.pdf
Riverbed material comprise essential component of construction industries but the manner in which mechanized, illegal, in-stream mining operations are being carried out, it is proving economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable and unaffordable for the river, villagers and governments.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)