Finally, Uttrakhand government on July 25, 2020 has removed illegal mining bridge on Yamuna river in Haripur, tehsil, Dehradun. The bridge across the Yamuna River was built by the illegal sand miners on culvert pipes in the last week of May 2020 hindering the river flows. It is not clear if the state government took any punitive or deterrent steps against those responsible, or did the government just quietly removed the bridge at its own expenses.
While river bed mining activities had come to a halt on June 30, 2020 following onset of monsoon, the illegal structure had remained there obstructing Yamuna river flow and upstream downstream connectivity.
The structure built using cement concrete pipes had come up hardly 300 metres upstream of Badhwala-Kalsi Bridge on the Yamuna river. The local people had repeatedly objected to the excessive riverbed mining as well as the bridge construction and the controversial river training policy of the state government.
July 25, 2020 images shared by locals showing culvert pipes being removed.
Since the beginning, SANDRP and Gaon Connection have been highlighting the problems and adverse impact of large scale mining and the temporary bridge on the river and impacts on the local people in downstream area. First on, May 28, 2020[i], when bridge construction started, we wrote about the issue describing how creation of cross-sectional bridge was in violation of established norms.
Again when it was not removed, even after a stop in riverbed mining activities, we raised[ii] the issue on July 11, 2020 showing how the bridge had turned into a potential flood disaster with increasing level of water in the river due to the ongoing monsoon season.
Surprisingly, the mining was being carried out under river training policy to address flooding in the river but the very act of construction of bridge across the river was illegal, had several impacts on the river and had turned into a potential flood threat to downstream areas.
As per the sand mining rules, construction of bunds, embankments, temporary bridges or any other structures which obstruct the flowing path of river are prohibited. However none other than state government was seen promoting or pardoning the illegal act.
The group of Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandali had twice submitted pleas[iii] to all the key officials of mining department and state pollution control board copying the same letter to Central Pollution Control Board and Union Environment Ministry. They said that despite knowing about the illegal and dangerous act the local administration and media maintained a studied silence over the issue.
With removal of the structures all concerned have taken a sigh of relief but they fear that the mining menace would return once monsoon is over.
People working for protection of rivers in the state share many more pressing concerns that the Uttarakhand government is totally non responsive and non-transparent about. When it comes to the riverbed mining activities there is no information available in public domain on number of mines allotted and amount of mineral extracted, area of land mined.
They demand that no mining should be allowed without credible replenishment study. There has to be credible monitoring and compliance mechanism that regularly makes public status and action taken when there are violations and responsible officials & contact details that people can connect with.
Images shared by locals on July 25, 2020 show removal of illegal bridge in progress.
“Most of the mines have been allotted to relatives or people having connection with top officials and ministers. There is an urgent need of an independent high-level probe or judicial intervention to stop the irregularities in riverbed mining” says a river activist working on mining issues on the condition of anonymity.
On June 11, 2020 meeting, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had raised concerns[v] about the impact of extensive riverbed mining operations on river ecology and wildlife in the state recommending a cumulative impact assessment study for all future mining projects.
Indeed the state of affairs as mentioned in detail in SANDRP’s overview of riverbed mining in Uttarakhand[vii], are quite worrying in Uttarakhand. Mining has been permitted even in reserve forest areas. There have been several protests by local people suffering from deep mechanized mining affecting water sources, local roads and farmlands.
The status of formation of mandatory district mineral foundation and collection and utilization of fund is completely unknown. The state government is apparently hiding all its inefficiencies and responsibilities behind an ambiguous river training policy.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[i] https://sandrp.in/2020/05/28/yamuna-riverbed-mining-miners-govts-throw-rule-book-in-river/, republished by Gaon Connection: https://en.gaonconnection.com/yamuna-riverbed-mining-miners-governments-throw-rule-book-in-river/
[ii] https://sandrp.in/2020/07/11/uttarakhand-govt-must-remove-illegal-bridge-on-yamuna-to-prevent-flood-disaster/, republished by Gaon Connection: https://en.gaonconnection.com/to-prevent-flood-disaster-in-uttarakhand-the-state-govt-must-remove-illegal-bridge-on-yamuna/