River Sand Mining is equivalent to mining not only riparian health, but also destroying massive water storage and recharge capacity. This was one of the central message of the West Zone River Sand Mining Dialogue on Nov 12, 2020 (4-6.30 pm) as part of the India Rivers Week 2020[i] theme “Is Sand Mining Killing our Rivers?” The other central message of the West Zone Dialogue was well encapsulated by this quote from Yamuna Sunny, one of the panelists at the Dialogue: “The intricate relationships between the fishers, the small scale sand miners, the sand farmers, the birds and the trees, pertains not only to possibilities of developing sustainable ways of human life in an economic sense, but also the sustaining of all life forms and their relationships in nature.”
The Dialogue was very efficiently moderated by Shripad Dharmadhikary of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra and Shailaja Deshpande of Jeevit Nadi Foundation, both from Pune. This was third in a series of Zonal River Sand Mining dialogues being held after North Zone[ii] and South Zone[iii] Dialogues held earlier.
The full video is available on FB live[iv] here: https://www.facebook.com/IndiaRiversForum/videos/1349329865399198/.
West Zone report The West Zone Sand Mining Status report[v] aptly titled “Mining Riparian Health: West Zone Regional Report” was presented by K J Joy of Water Conflicts Forum/ SOPPECOM. He mentioned that working on river sand mining is a personal journey for him as he started his activist life with work on sand mining related issues in Yerala river in Sangli-Satara districts of Maharashtra in Krishna River basin in 1980s as part of Mukti Sangharsh movement’s work. Some highlights of very systematic presentation done by Joy include the following:
- The West Zone includes some of the most industrialised (implying more sand demand) and most dammed parts of India (implying less sand in the rivers downstream from the dams).
- Assuming per capita use of cement at 235 kg, and assuming cement:sand ratio of 1:2.5, the sand consumption in western India is around 185.5 Million Tons. These figures are lower than the figures given by the Ministry of Mines report of 2017.
- The presentation narrated how the value chain of sand operates based on a 2011-12 report by the Prayatna Samiti.
- The groundwater surface water dynamics in a river crucially depends on the river sand, particularly sand bars. The strip of sand is in fact an aquifer which both stores water and recharges groundwater. Sand stored about 15% water by volume. For example, 1 m thick sand in a 100 m wide river, over one km would be storing 1500 cubic meters of water. The annual sand loss in western India thus would come to about 17 Million Cubic Meters of water storage and water recharge capacity equal to at least 2% of base flow or 35% of industrial water use.
- He ended by underlining the need for privileging the gramsabhas, panchayats in regulating the sand mining at local level, including monitoring and overseeing.
The full West Zone Presentation can be downloaded from here.
Tukaram Munde: “Sand will be supplied for the demand, legally or illegally” Famous IAS Officer (Maharashtra, 2005 batch) Tukaram Munde is known as firebrand officer who has been transferred sixteen times already in his 15-year period as IAS officer. He has been popular for his honesty and bold pro people efforts including in Solapur, Navi Mumbai, Nasik and Nagpur, among others. His efforts to clamp down on illegal sand mining in Solapur are well known and he had to face “life threatening situation” in his own words, since the economics and returns are so high. He emphasised that there are two important issues about river sand mining: “One is demand supply issue. As long as there is demand for sand, there will be supply, legal or illegal. And this is one industry that is never in recession. Second issue is how to convert the vicious cycle including involvement of sand mafia that we are in, into a virtuous cycle. This conversion can only happen with the involvement of local communities, civil society and the government. What is lacking is RIGHT political will. We need to work to bring the stakeholders who are on the wrong side of the fence or who are fence sitters, to the right side of the fence.”
Mr. Munde said that without the consent of the concerned village panchayats, sand cannot be excavated, but there are challenges in implementation of this regulation. He said the environmental regulations has changed the way sand mining auctions happen. He said that we need to understand and accordingly treat the cyclical profitable economy of sand and follow the principle of build back the future as in case of urban solid waste management. He emphasised that implementation of regulation of sand mining on ground is difficult.
Tarun Nair: Hungry Waters have many impacts Conservation Biologist Tarun Nair of ATREE, whose work focusses on understanding the conservation needs of gharials in North-Central India, particularly along the Chambal, Son, and Gandak Rivers said in his presentation titled “Ecological Impacts of River Sand Mining on Freshwater Ecosystems”, the sand mining interrupts the sediment transport in rivers, which then has multiple kinds of biotic and abiotic, direct and indirect impacts on the river. These then includes impacts on Channels, Morphology, Flow, Sediment transport and Water quality which in turn has impact on biotic life in the river and on the banks of river. Interestingly, Nair’s slide had listed the number of studies in each of these themes and sub-themes thereof. He illustrated how the nick point created by the incision in the riverbed during sand mining travels upstream and downstream. The recommendation of mining even upto 2 meters’ depth has huge impact on several biotic species. The impact extends from micro species, fish, gharials, turtles and even birds. Nair illustrated through time lapse satellite images of Chambal river to show how the habitat of these species has changed in Chambal river at one of the prime breeding sites from 2016 to now.
It creates hungry waters phenomena where there is excess energy but not enough material to transport to use that energy. Sand mining in Madhya Pradesh is characterized by its illegal, criminal and violent nature. The large scale mechanized river sand mining is easily detectable by satellite imagery. As moderator Shripad Dharmadhikary said, this was indeed a very insightful presentation.
Full presentation of Tarun Nair can be downloaded from here.
Yamuna Sunny: Capital operates to sideline sustainability Dr Yemuna Sunny, a critical geographer and educationist associated with TISS (Mumbai) and Eklavya (MP) said, “The MP govt in 2015 has given large number of new permissions for sand mining in Narmada even when they do not have sufficient staff to deal with it. Large scale mechanized sand mining in Narmada River deepens the ironical questions that the Narmada movement has raised regarding relationship between development, environment and the ordinary people. The sand mining in Narmada River continue even during the monsoon ban period, riding over the ban on mechanized mining by the NGT. Illegal mining is rampant and mafia is aggressive. NBA & others have filed several cases against such mining.”
In her presentation Yamuna observed, “The monsoon ban on fishing and sand mining is observed as many of the birds and fish breed during this period. A number of birds lay their eggs in the sand with or without elaborate nest building.” Illustrating deep interconnections between the riverine flora and fauna, she underlined that seeds of the plants are food for the birds and thus they help spread of the seeds. Livelihoods supported by the sandy river banks includes river bed farming, fishing and small scale manual sand mining, which is already getting curtailed due to dams. Even the remaining such farming is now becoming impossible due to sand mining. Mining has altered the landscape, the river flow, water availability and sand deposit patterns. Streams are drying up from January onwards, for example Shed and Shakkar in Narsimgpur district, which used to hold water the year round. Tributaries of Narmada like Dhudi have dried up.
Yamuna’s message came out brilliantly here: “But capital operates in ways that side-line sustainability, making ordinary people poorer, many of whom may be forced to migrate. Landless people lose not only common lands, but also a sense of belonging to any place on the earth.”
The full presentation of Dr Yamuna Sunny can be downloaded from here.
Khetaram: Unsustainable sand mining destroys life sustaining sources The next speaker, Khetaram Dangi is local farmer-activist of the Meval Kshetra Paryavaran Evam Manav Vikas Lokmanch, from Bambora village from Udaipur District of Rajasthan. The Lokmanch has put up a struggle against the sand mining in the 1800 sq km catchment of the Jaisamund lake. He emphasised how the indiscriminate sand mining in this area has led to impoverishment of large sections of people. The struggle against it has been going on for about seven years now. The case is still ongoing in National Green Tribunal. There is ban on sand mining, but it still goes on in illegal ways due to the mis-governance of the administration. The Lokmanch has been holding meetings in villages, raising awareness to stop this sand mining. There is urgent need to protect and replenish the life sustaining sources.
Lara Jesani: Non existent environment governance Lara Jesani, Advocate, Bombay High Court & NGT, gave detailed chronology of how environment governance of River Sand Mining has been changing in India, illustrating how we have reached crisis point today. Painting the stark picture, she said the sector is characterized by “Lack of environmental impact assessment, is poorly regulated, plagued by corruption, control of sand mafia, violent reprisals, complete disregard for law, rampant violation, with monitoring, compliance and enforcement close to NIL.” She minced no words when she asked how did we arrive where illegal and indiscriminate sand mining is the norm? It seems like a strong system is in place to perpetuate this. Till 2009 there was not even any legal environment governance in place. Even when environment regulation started, it has remained very poorly regulated.
Even in 2009, mining leases of 5-50 ha were under category B, so having relatively poor regulation and no regulation for mines below 5 ha area (most of the mines are in this category). Even the regulation provided was ambiguous and poorly implemented.
Feb 2012 SC order in Deepak Kumar case was a major landmark: “Sand mining on either side of the rivers, upstream and in-stream, is one of the causes for environmental degradation and also a threat to biodiversity. Over the years, India’s rivers and riparian ecology have been badly affected by the alarming rate of unrestricted sand mining which damages the ecosystem of rivers and the safety of bridges, weakens riverbeds, destroys natural habitats of organisms living on riverbeds, affects fish breeding and migration, spells disaster for the conservation of many bird species, increases saline water in the rivers etc. Extraction of alluvial material from within or near a stream-bed has a direct impact on the stream’s physical habitat characteristics… Altering these habitat characteristics can have deleterious impact on both in-stream biota and the associated riparian habitat.” However, even that order remains mostly violated and poorly implemented.
Lara concluded that the legislative ambiguity and dilutions since the SC orders have been at the heart of non implementation of the SC and NGT orders. And now the provision of post facto clearances mounts the problems many fold. Lara ended by underlining the need to protect the defenders of rule of law and rivers in sand mining as a legal measure. Because today nothing stops the sand mafia from getting away with violence.
The full presentation of Lara Jesani can be downloaded from here.
Vilas Gore: It is possible to hugely reduce sand use Vilas Gore the next speaker have been involved in technology development as well as detailed planning, design and construction of water structures including small dams with the use of renewable materials e.g. bamboo, wood and fibers as well as new materials e.g. synthetic liners, filters and reinforcements. He also underlined lack of regulation in use of sand. He said, “We must find alternatives to construct either without concrete or optimize sand consumption in concrete. I will focus on alternatives that can optimize sand consumption by 20-30%. He also revealed that of the sand used in a typical building, only about 20% is used in main RCC frame. The rest is used in walls and plaster, which can mostly be replaced by alternative materials. He showed examples of buildings where alternative materials like engineered and treated bamboo have been used in the building construction.
He illustrated use of second set of technologies where sand use is totally eliminated, for example in road building. He concluded by saying that besides strict implementation of legal and institutional measures for regulating sand extraction and use, “standardization of engineering designs & construction practices and user acceptance to the eco-friendly alternatives would play an important role in saving our River eco-system.”
The full presentation of Shri Vilas Gore can be downloaded from here.
In Conclusion It is clear the West Zone river sand mining dialogue was full of some remarkable insights as highlighted above. There was insufficient focus on some states like Gujarat and Goa, but that was more than compensated by the richness of the presentations.
To join the East and National Dialogues to happen on Nov 21 and Nov 28 respectively, please register: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfrgNr6Tb5BUbbmrX9BGI8xwXrhBQGsfRH9hK-paCariGyMQg/viewform