Sand Mining

193 dead in River Sand Mining incidents in India in 2019-20

The illegal, excessive sand mining activities have been impacting river ecosystem and riparian communities adversely. Scores of villagers, young kids, reporters, activists and government officials are being attacked and killed every year for objecting to or due to unlawful and unsustainable excavation of River sand. The brazen mining is also leading to fatal road accidents which is again resulting in grievous injuries or even deaths.

The situation has only deteriorated despite several protests by locals and numbers of court orders reprimanding the central and the state governments. Political parties, politicians are directly or indirectly linked to many of these activities. 

SANDRP in its 2018 overview, could compile 28 human fatalities due to illegal sand mining operations. However that was only based on the news reports that came to our notice, the actual death toll would be much higher. SANDRP this time has prepared a more detailed account of violent incidents that have taken place since January 2019 so far causing human death and injuries. The state and zone wise brief summary of these incidents is given here and a bit more detailed report is uploaded separately.

NORTH INDIA The North India zone covers the state of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. There are insufficient media reports on the issue from Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi, Chandigarh and Ladakh.

Uttar Pradesh: Human Death Toll In this region Uttar Pradesh has topped the chart with 62 deaths caused by riverbed mining and transportation. 35 of these deaths were a result of drowning in deep sand mining pits followed by 12 people mostly young dying in road accidents involving sand mining vehicles.

Of the total drowning deaths 32 occurred in Yamuna river in the districts of Shamli and Baghpat while 3 more person dieds in other districts in deep sand mining pits. 31 or 50% of the deceased are either young children or teenagers. The reports suggest that there is steep rise in such tragic incidents in recent years. 

The state also saw murder of 5 citizens including villagers and farmers for opposing illegal sand mining. 5 more government officials including policemen and forest guards were killed by illegal sand miners. This includes killing of a young constable Sonu Chaudhary by illegal sand miners in Agra on November 08, 2020. Before this two cops were killed by illegal miners in Rai Bareilly in October 2020, policeman Ravi in Prayagraj in April 2020, forest official Tej Pratap Singh in November 2019 in Sonbhadra.  

File photos of Sonu Chaudhary (left) and Sbhubham Mani Tripathi (right)

There was also murder of a reporter Shubham Mani Tripathi in June 2020 which is linked to sand mafia. Similarly 1 gangster Pushpendra Yadav involved in illegal mining was shot dead by police in an encounter in Jhansi in October 2019 while 1 history sheeter Ramsahay was murdered by a rival group in July 2019 in Unnao. There were two incidents of mine collapse killing the miners.

Threats and Attacks In addition to death toll, there have been several incidents of attacks and open threats to villagers, government officials, activists and reporters in the state by illegal sand miners. We could compile 17 such incidents involving injuries to a large number of citizens and government officials. 

Such is the terror of sand mafia here that even MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) are not spared. In July 2020, Yoghesh Dhama, MLA Baghpat appealed to Chief Minister to save his life from notorious gangster Sunil Rathi. In his letter the MLA expressed fear for his life as the gangster held him responsible for administrative actions on Rathi’s illegal sand mining activities. Similarly, another MLA Yogesh Verma of Lakhimpur Kheeri sustained bullet injuries by sand mafia in March 2019. The reports mention that the MLA had faced lethal attacks in past also for being very active against illegal sand mining in his area. A relative of a MLA of Banda of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has also alleged threats and attacks by sand mafia in January 2020.

It is also shocking that Ram Lal Verma a DIG rank police official has been seeking justice even after 16 years against fatal attack on him by sand mafia. The official then SP, Unnao had sustained multiple bullet injures fired by sand mafia in 2004 and the culprits have not been brought to justice so far.

The December 2019, Rampur mishap is also worth mentioning when a sand mining truck ran into a school razing its boundary wall. Luckily the school was closed for winter vacation otherwise it could have been a big disaster.

Haryana: Human Death Toll After Uttar Pradesh, Haryana has witnessed most sand mining deaths in past two years, 19 people have died in sand mining related incidents. Out of this 15 deaths were due to drowning in sand mining pits including 11 children or teens and 4 adults. 3 persons have died in road accidents caused by sand mining vehicles and 1 youth was killed in brawl with dumper drivers.

There could be more deaths in road accidents and drowning uncovered or untraced in local media reports. Similarly, there are few reports on drowning not revealing the exact causes. The Yamuna river has turned seasonal in upper segment flowing with shallow water level most of the time in a year. This stretch is under excessive riverbed mining and probabilities of deep sand pits covered by water leading to these deaths cannot be ruled out.  

Parents of Kanalsi kids who died in illegal sand mining pits in Somb river in Yamuna Nagar July 2019

In addition, there have been several drowning deaths in sand mining pits of Yamuna river before 2019 both in UP and Haryana, not counted here.

Threats and Attacks   Reports show there have been 8 incidents of threats and attacks on villagers, government officials in Haryana. The incidents of Panchukula are alarming where police team faced attacks by illegal miners in October 2019 and reportedly by agitating villagers in first week of November 2020.

The recent incident of Rattewali particularly highlights the severe problems of sand governance in Haryana. The villagers have been protesting against excessive mining in Rattewali river leading to groundwater decline and deaths of cattle. However, the administration is adamant on allowing more mining there. Ultimately, the clash between villagers and Police have led to injuries of about 21 police personnel which is highest for a single incident in North India. Sadly, even after this, the villagers are facing administrative actions for opposing unsustainable mining in their river.  

Similarly, the villagers of Yamuna Nagar and Panipat have been facing attacks, threats and hostile administration for opposing illegal mining in Yamuna river for the past two years. A local reporter in Panipat also faced false report against him by police for highlighting illegal mining impacts. The regular media is afraid of publishing reports and the independent ones have been silenced by the threats.

There have been several incidents in Haryana and UP where rival mining groups have resorted to open firing at each other which could potentially lead to death of innocent villagers as well as miners.

Uttarakhand: Human Death Toll Media reports show that 7 persons have died in illegal sand mining related activities in Uttarakhand since January 2019. This includes drowning of 3 children in deep sand mine pits in Khoh river Kotdwar & Banganga river in Roorkee. 3 persons (1 ex air force official, 1 girl student and 1 other person) have died in road accidents by sand vehicles. Mine collapse incident has killed 1 person during this period.  

The excessive mining in Banganga river in Roorkee area despite a ban has caused death of 5 persons including 4 teens since 2017. Of these 3 death are due to drowning in sand mining pits and one each as a result of road accident and violence. Death of 1 teenager due to drowning in river, reported in January 2019, is counted in this analysis.

Injured Rajiv Gaur Editor Karmbhoomi after the attack by sand mafia.

Threats and Attacks   The state has also seen 15 incidents of threats and attacks on villagers, reporters and government officials particularly forest guards in past two years. The violent attack on local reporter Rajiv Gaur in May 2020 is worth mentioning. The reporter has been exposing the illegal mining in Kotdwar rivers for long time which forced administration to take some actions. This infuriated the miners who resorted to a brutal attack on the reporter severely injuring him and his colleague.

Punjab: Human Death Toll In Punjab 7 people including two kids have died in sand mining related incidents since Jan. 2019. There have been 2 incidents of violent attacks on a farmer and on an MLA. Illegal mining is also suspected causing murder of a reporter which has not been proven as yet. As per a report, 8 persons have died after falling in deep sand mining pits in Swan river in Bhalan village area in Ropar since 2013. Of these 5 deaths happened in 2019. 

Injured forest guard Dhanveer Singh Himachal May 2020

Himachal Pradesh: Threats and Attacks In Himachal Pradesh 4 persons including 3 policemen and 1 forest guard have been injured while taking action against illegal sand mining in past two years. There were four incidents where police team including a woman official and a reporter was threatened by illegal miners.

North India Summary In five states of North India, 95 persons have died due to illegal sand mining activities in past two years. Of these highest 60 deaths are due to drowning in sand mining pits followed by 18 due to road accidents involving sand transportation. 50 of the drowning deaths have taken place in UP (35) and Haryana (15) only.

Death toll in North India due to Illegal Sand Mining in 2019-20

StateDrowning in sand pitsMine collapseRoad accidents  Killing of Citizens/ Villagers/ FarmersKilling of Reporters/ ActivistsKilling of Govt. officialsKilling in Gang-war/ Encounter/ Infighting Total
Uttar Pradesh35212515262
Haryana15NA31NANANA19
Uttarakhand313NANANANA7
Punjab7NANANANANANA7
Total60318615295

Sadly, 48 of total drowning deaths are of young and teenager villagers who unaware of deep pits, ventured into the river to have a bath and slipped into these pits leading to their deaths. The excessive mining has turned Yamuna, Swan, Banganga and Khoh rivers into a death traps for kids.

Similarly, in this period 6 villagers, 5 government officials and 1 reporter have been killed for opposing, exposing and tacking actions against illegal miners in the region. The mine collapse has killed 3 persons while 2 have been killed in infighting and encounter.

Additionally available reports show that there have been 48 incidents of violent attacks and threats on government officials (22), villagers (20), reporters and activists (5).

WEST & CENTRAL INDIA The West and Central India zones includes the state of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.  

Rajasthan: Human Death Toll 21 people have lost their lives due to illegal sand mining in Rajasthan since January 2019. Of these 11 are the sand workers who died after the collapse of sand mines.  The brutal attack by sand mafia has resulted in killing of 4 persons including one government driver, one forest guard and two civilians. The road accidents caused by sand mining vehicles led to death of 4 villagers while two sand mafias were killed in police encounter.

Dead body of Kuldeep Sharma driver of SDM Bheelwara who was crushed to death by illegal mining vehicle in June 2020. (NBT)

The mine collapse incidents include death of 4 labourers near Sunagar village of Bundi district near Chambal Crocodile Sanctuary in March 2019. Then 2 sand workers died following collapse of mine in Ahu river near Dhaturia village of Jhalawar in June 2020. Again in July 2020, the mine collapse near the Gugor fort in Parvati river killed 2 youths in Baran district. In a similar incident in the same district, 12 miners were buried under a sand mound which has reportedly killed 3 of them in August 2020.

Threats and Attacks In two incidents of attack by illegal sand miners a forest guard and one policeman suffered injuries. 

Gujarat: Human Death Toll In Gujarat 6 people have lost their lives due to illegal sand mining since Jan. 2019. 5 were caused by drowning in sand pits and 1 person was shot dead in illegal mining dispute. All the drowning deaths have occurred in Sabarmati river around Ahmedabad.

Injured cop being taken to hospital after a mob attacked Khavda police team for action against illegal sand mining racket in Kutch district. July 2020 (ToI)

Threats and Attacks Apart from this there were 3 incidents of attack on government officials and villagers by illegal miners injuring 8 people including 5 policemen, 2 mining department officials and 1 citizen. The incident of July 2020 is most violent where 5 policemen narrowly escaped a mob lynching by more than 100 armed locals while taking action against illegal mining complaints in Khavda area of Kutch district.

Madhya Pradesh: Human Death Toll In Madhya Pradesh 15 people have been killed in sand mining related accidents Since Jan 2019. Of these 9 deaths were due to collapse of sand mines killing 6 adults and 3 teenagers. Similarly 4 kids died in sand pits in Sone river. Thus in total 7 children lost their lives to illegal sand mining. The gang war between rival groups also led to murder of two illegal miners in Bhind in Chambal river basin.

The collapse of illegal sand mines near Narmada river in Barwani killed 5 sand workers in June 2019. In the same month another mine collapse incident took place in Shivpur district along Parvati river near Maroura Khalsa village killing 4 persons including 3 teenagers.

Threats and Attacks Additionally, there were 9 incidents of brazen attacks on and threatening of government officials including police, revenue, mining and district administration. It seems the sand mafia are backed by influential people and politicians. Hence they without second thought, launch violent attacks and threats to government officials.

The situation is so grim that administration had to impose section 144 in Panna district in March 2019. The SDM of Panna was openly threatened by a politician for seizing illegal sand mining trucks from Ken river which reportedly belonged to the politician.

Sand mafia attacking police official in Sheopur. July 2020 (Amar Ujala)

Similarly the administration team in Betul was attacked in broad day light in May 2020 while it was taking action against illegal mining in Tawa river. The attackers fled away. Then a police team in Dewas was beaten with sticks by illegal miners in June 2020 and a police personnel was thrashed in Sheopur in July 2020. The miners were carrying illegal mining in Chambal river.   

Chhattisgarh: Threats and Attacks There have been three incidents of attacks on villagers and a reporters in past two years. In July 2019, Posari villagers in Nandghat area of Bemetera district were attacked by illegal sand miners for opposing illegal mining in Shivnath river. The villagers had inquired about mining permission on which the contractor started beating them.

In June 2020, a DDC member and three of his friends were beaten by sand mafia at Joratarai sand mine. The DDC member had gone to the area after complaints of illegal sand mining where he and his associates were held captive by Nagu Chandrakar and beaten with belt, sticks till they fell unconscious.

Kamal Shukla Editor Bhoomkaal being attacked by illegal sand miners. Sept. 2020

In September 2020, Kamal Shukla, the editor of Bhoomkaal a regional newspaper who had led a campaign for a journalist protection law was dragged down a street, beaten and slashed with a sharp weapon barely 100 metres from Kanker police station in Bastar. Shukla had himself gone to cover an assault on a young journalist who has been filing RTIs on illegal sand mining and was beaten up and dragged to the police station by a group of people.

Summary In three states of West India illegal sand mining incidents have led to killing of 42 persons in Rajasthan (21), Gujarat (6) and Madhya Pradesh (15) since Jan 2019. The Highest number of deaths (20) has occurred in mine collapse incidents killing 11 in Rajasthan and 9 in Madhya Pradesh. Drowning in sand mining pits has killed 9 people including 5 in Gujarat and 4 in Madhya Pradesh. Sadly, again out of 29 deaths due to drowning and mine collapse 8 are young children and teenagers and one woman.

Death toll in West & Central India due to Illegal Sand Mining in 2019-20

StateDrowning in sand pitsMine collapseRoad accidents  Killing of Citizens/ Villagers/ FarmersKilling of Reporters/ ActivistsKilling of Govt. officialsKilling in Gang-war/ Encounter/ Infighting Total
RajasthanNA1142NA2221
Gujarat5NANA1NANANA6
Madhya Pradesh49NANANANA215
Total92043NA2442

Similarly, the road accidents involving mining vehicles has killed 4 people (all in Rajasthan) and 3 have been murdered (2 in Rajasthan and 1 in Gujarat) for opposing illegal sand mining. The illegal miners mowed down 2 government officials in Rajasthan. 2 illegal miners were killed in sand mining gang war in Bhind while 2 others were shot down by Dholpur police following an encounter.

The region has also seen 18 incidents of violent attack on villagers, reporters and government officials. Half of these occurred in Madhya Pradesh alone followed by Gujarat (3), Chhattisgarh (3), Rajasthan (2) and Maharashtra (1).

Additionally, Kamal Shukla a well-known journalist and editor of Bhoomkal was attacked  in full public view close to a Chhattisgarh police station in September 2020. The attack by illegal miners severely injured the reporter. He has been covering unabated illegal sand mining by influential persons associated with ruling party.  

The states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Goa are also suffering from illegal sand mining to great extent, however we could not come across sufficient media reports.  

EAST INDIA The East Zone covers Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. There is lack of media reports for north eastern states though few like Assam, Tripura and Manipur are facing lot of unsustainable and illegal mining activities.

Bihar: Human Death Toll 36 people have been killed in Bihar in sand mining related incidents since January 2019. 25 deaths were due to drowning in sand mining pits. This includes 22 children, teenagers and 3 adults.

Of total drowning deaths 11 have occurred in Sone river including 9 children & teenagers and 2 adults. Then 8 person which includes 7 children & teenagers and 1 adult have died after drowning in Kosi river. The remaining 6 deaths of children has occurred in Morhar river (4), Parman river (1) and Falgu river (1). The drowning incident killing for children in Morhar river had taken place in August 2018.

In addition to these, 9 people including 4 government officials and 1 RTI activist have been murdered in this period and 2 people including a minor were killed in accidents involving sand laden vehicles.

The murder of the Pankaj Kumar (32) from Katarhi village in Paliganj sub-division is quite shocking. He had filed several RTIs and complaints with mining and geology department against illegal mining in his area. He also used to post contents on his social media profile regularly against sand-laden trucks passing through his village, much to the inconvenience of common people and schoolchildren. In the first week January 2020 his dead body with bullet and physical injuries was found.

Damaged escort vehicle of police after deliberate accident killing 4 personnel. July 2020. (Dainik Jagran)

In another major incident in the first week of May 2020, a sand & gravel laden truck hit the vehicle of patrolling team on Gaya-Panchanpur road killing driver of patrolling vehicle, one SAP personnel and two home guards.

The sand mining violence is also killing the people involved in transportation of sand. In Banka district a truck driver was killed in cross firing in October 2019 and in Rohtas an assistant of a truck driver was beaten to death for refusing to pay extortion money in November 2019.

Threats and Attacks There have been 4 incidents of violent attacks on police team and 2 incidents of violent clashes among villagers over sand mining issues. These includes deadly sand wars among miners in Banka in June 2020 over sand mining dispute from Chandan river and in Jamui where an already ongoing dispute in village groups was further triggered due to illegal sand mining in July 2020. In these clashes bombs, bullets were fired at each other and stone were also pelted on police teams rushed in to control the situation.  

Odisha: Human Death Toll In Odisha 3 people have died due to illegal sand mining since Jan 2019. Of these two were RTI activists who were murdered and a person was killed in a road accident.

Mantu Tarei of Susumari village in Rashgovindpur was found dead on the bed of Jambhira river on January 9, 2020. The 32 year old youth was a social activist and spearheading protests against illegal sand mining on Jambhira river bed.

Villagers stage road blockade with Mantu’s body at Musamari Chowk, Jan. 2020 (TNIE)

Then on January 31, 2020, another RTI activist Ranjan Kumar Das was killed in Kendrapada. He was convener of the district unit of Odisha Suchana Adhikar Abhijan. Many social workers and RTI activists suspected the killing was due to his being vocal against illegal sand quarrying, brick kiln owners apart from other governance issues.

Threats and Attacks Reports also show there have been violent attacks on a reporter, on an elderly woman and on an activist for exposing and opposing illegal sand mining in Balasore and Cuttack districts. The fatal attack on Pratap Patra a journalist of an Odisha daily in Balasore in May 2019 was following his coverage on illegal sand mining near the Subarnarekha river.

Like Rattewali incident of Haryana, the Hinjili violence of Ganjam was due to reluctance of administration against illegal sand mining activities. Angry over official inactions, locals in April 2020 set 8 mining vehicles on fire. After this the administration registered cases against about 8 villagers. This further infuriated the villagers who staged a large protest demanding removal of cases. The police had to lathi-charge to disperse the crowd. 2 policemen and several villagers were reportedly injured in the clash following the lathi-charge.   

Jharkhand: Human Death Toll One elderly person lost his life after getting hit by sand mining vehicle in January 2020.   

Threats and Attacks Violence over sand mining is still happening in Garhwa district where 14 villagers were injured in infighting between two groups on sand extraction. Five Jatpura villagers in the district were killed following a deadly clash between sand miners & villagers in May 2017. Police team has also faced one attack in Jharkhand in past two years.

West Bengal: Human Death Toll A 10-year-old boy drowned after slipping into a sand pit on Leesh river bed in July 2019.

Meghalaya: Threats and Attacks Some members of the All Meghalaya Minority Students’ Union in West Garo Hills sustained injuries after being attacked by people belonging to a group of illegal sand smugglers from Assam in July 2020. The incident took place when group went to stop the illegal extraction of sand from the Jinijram River near the Ginning Mill area, bordering Assam.

Summary 41 people have been killed in East India in past two years in sand mining related incidents. Of these 36 deaths has occurred only in Bihar followed by 3 in Odisha and 1 each in Jharkhand and West Bengal. Drowning in sand mining pits has killed 26 persons including 22 young children and teenagers.

Death toll in East India due to Illegal Sand Mining in 2019-20

StateDrowning in sand pitsMine collapseRoad accidents  Killing of Citizens/ Villagers/ FarmersKilling of Reporters/ ActivistsKilling of Govt. officialsKilling in Gang-war/ Encounter/ Infighting Total
Bihar25NA2414NA36
OdishaNANA1NA2NANA3
JharkhandNANA1NANANANA1
West Bengal1NANANANANANA1
Total26NA4434NA41

The road accidents involving mining vehicles has killed 4 persons. 4 villagers and 4 government officials all in Bihar have been murdered by illegal sand miners. Similarly, 2 RTI activists in Odisha and 1 in Bihar have been killed by sand mafia for opposing and exposing illegal sand mining activities.

The zone has also seen 11 incidents of violent attacks on government officials (5) villagers (4) and activists (2). There have not been any mine collapse incidents and encounters reported in this region. There are less causalities and attacks reported in Jharkhand, West Bengal and North Eastern states, primarily as we could not access them.

SOUTH INDIA The South India zone covers the states of Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

Karnataka: Human Death Toll In Karnataka 1 person and 3 kids have died due to illegal sand mining related accidents in the past two years. In a tragic incident, 3 minor kids died after a pile of sand fell on them in the Navali village of the Kanakagiri taluk in August 2019. The children belonged to a family who migrated from Maharashtra to work in a coal factory. Then in March 2020, Ambareesh (22) a resident of Bhaktharahalli died when a sand trolley he was hired to load, toppled crushing him to death. The miners were doing it illegally but had lied to Ambareesh that they had permission.

Telangana: Human Death Toll In Telangana three farmers have been killed for opposing illegal sand mining affecting their farmlands in the past two years.

In one such incident, D Pandu, 45, a farmer was attacked and killed by illegal sand miners in February 2020 in Yadadri Bhongir district. Pandu was also an activist with the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi and had complaint against illegal sand mining in recent past resulting in the attack.

Deceased farmer K Narasimhulu of Thirumalapur village, Rajapur mandal, Mahabubnagar. July 2020 (TNM)

Then in July 2020, K Narsimhulu a farmer was reportedly crushed to death by a sand mafia truck after he opposed the illegal transportation of sand from his agricultural fields in Tirumalapur of Mehabubnagar district. According to the kin of the victim, for the past two years, their borewells in the farms had dried up due to sand exploitation from the village’s water stream.

The relatives protested for several hours not allowing the police to away Nasimhulu’s mortal remains.  However, hours later, the family members changed their version and said that the death was an accident. Last year, a similar incident occurred in the village when a farmer was killed by a sand mafia under the pretext of obstructing the sand mafia from illegal transportation of sand.

Threats and Attacks Illegal sand miners in March 2020 attacked 4 forest officials when they tried to prevent illegal sand mining in Parmalla stream in Gandhari mandal of Kamareddy dist.

Tamil Nadu: Human Death Toll In Tamil Nadu a sand miner was buried to death and one activist was murdered by sand mafia in past two years. In the first incident, Thangavel (28) a hearing & speech impaired resident of Valarpuram village in Vellore district died under sand heap when the mine collapsed in Nandi river in May 2019. Three more workers were trapped under the sand heap but were rescued. Local residents said they were illegally mining the sand.

In June 2019, B Mohan, a former Ilayanur village head and an anti-sand mining activist was forcefully drowned and beaten up with iron rods for questioning the mining gang in Ramanathapuram district. 5 others who accompanied Mohan were also severely injured during the attack. The sand mining mafia has been active in the district for more than a decade allegedly with the support of the administration.

Threats and Attacks A woman official was attacked by illegal miners and another one was severely injured in illegal mining activities. In June 2019, a gang involved in illegal sand mining in Cauvery river attacked Pushpalatha, the village assistant of Marudhur North – 2 when she tried to catch them near Kulithalai in Karur district. In April 2019, another woman aged 54 of Sivanvoyal in Avadi was knocked down by a truck carrying sand in Pakkam lake. While she survived, her ability to walk was affected.

Injured woman village assistant. June 2019 (ToI)

In the latest incident, G. Moses (26), a reporter with the Thamilan TV, was hacked to death near his house at Naduveeranpattu Pudhunallur village near Tambaram in Kancheepuram district on Nov 8, 2020.  Moses had been exposing the shady deals of the land mafia and encroachers in the village and in its neighbourhood on the outskirts of Chennai city. Though involvement of sand mafia in the incident is not established, however seeking government protection, local reporters there have expressed fear of threats to life from illegal sand miners. 

Kerala: Human Death Toll Illegal sand mining incidents has led to murder of a citizen & violent attack on an RTI activist in Kerala in 2020. In the first case, in Jan 2020, sand mafia killed a man with the mechanical arm of JCB for resisting mining from his compound at Kattakada. Sangeeth Balan of Sreemangalam in Keezharooril was hit with the machine in front of his family.   

Deceased Sangeeth Balan, Jan. 2020 (TNIE)

Threats and Attacks In Feb 2020, Mahesh Vijayan, an RTI activist, who fights against illegal soil mining in the district, was attacked by a four member-gang at his residence at Nattassery. This was the second such attack on Mahesh in three weeks. In Jan 2020, when the activist went to the Kottayam municipality to file an RTI, seeking information about sand mining in the region, a few men, who were later identified as sand contractors, attacked him.

Andhra Pradesh: Human Death Toll In Andhra Pradesh the sand scarcity following a ban by newly elected government in 2019 has reportedly resulted in suicide of 5 construction workers. 

Threats and Attacks The state has also seen violent attacks on govt officials by illegal sand miners. First, 2 VROs were injured as sand mafia attacked them at Naira village in Srikakulam rural mandal when they were trying to prevent the illegal excavation of sand from Nagavali river in May 2019. Then two revenue officials were injured when they tried to stop illegal sand transportation from River Penna in Siddavatam mandal, exposing the thriving sand mafia in Kadapa district in June 2019.

Summary In the past two years, South India illegal sand mining activities have led to death of 15 persons of which 5 are farmers, 1 social activist. The region has also seen 4 deaths including 3 minor kids following collapsing of sand dune and caving in of sand mine. The other 5 deaths have taken place in Andhra Pradesh where the ban on sand mining affected the construction activities severely forcing 5 workers to commit suicide.

Death toll in South India due to Illegal Sand Mining in 2019-20

StateDrowning in sand pitsMine collapseRoad accidents  Killing of Citizens/ Villagers/ FarmersKilling of Reporters/ ActivistsKilling of Govt. officialsTotal
KarnatakaNA3NA1NANA4
TelanganaNANANA3NANA3
Tamil NaduNA1NANA1NA2
KeralaNANANA1NANA1
Andhra PradeshNANANANANANA5*
TotalNA4NA51NA15

*Suicides by construction workers.

Moreover, there have been 8 attacks injuring 5 govt officials, 2 villagers & 1 activist. One of the main reasons behind less incidents from South India reported above is limitation to access local media reports in regional languages there which often covers most of the reports pertaining to illegal sand mining violence.

NATIONAL SCENE: Human Death Toll On the basis of available reports we can see that at least 193 people have been killed due to illegal sand mining operations across the country from Jan 2019 to Nov 15, 2020. The highest number of people 95 have been killed  in North India (49%) followed by 42 in West and Central India, 41 in East India and 15 in South India.

Drowning, mine collapse, road accidents bigger killers Of the total deaths 95 have been caused by drowning in deep sand mining pits followed by 27 due to collapse of sand mounds and caving in of sand mines. The road accidents involving sand mining vehicles have resulted in death of 26 people including 18 in North India only.

These deaths totalling to 148 (which is about 76 percent) are indirectly attributed to excessive and unscientific riverbed mining and transportation of sand. Out of 26 deaths in road accidents 18 (about 69 percent) has taken place in just three North Indian states of UP (12), Haryana (3) and Uttarakhand (3).

In this period, 23 farmers, villagers; 5 reporters & activists and 11 govt officials including forest guards, policemen, revenue officials, mining personnel & district officials have been killed by illegal miners.

The infighting between rival groups has led to death of 3 illegal miners (1 in UP, 2 in MP) while 3 others (1 in UP, 2 in Rajasthan) were killed in police encounter. 45 deaths (about 23%) including if illegal miners is outcome of direct assault on villagers, govt officials, activists & reporters.

Few available images of govt officials, citizens, reporters killed due to illegal sand mining in India 2019-20.

Sand pits killing young children Out of 95 drowning deaths in sand mining pits 76 (80 per cent) are either minor kids or young children or teenagers who entered in river to have a bath unaware of deep pits in the riverbed. Sadly, 11 children of Haryana and 32 children in Uttar Pradesh have died after falling in deep sand pits in this period. Similarly, in Bihar, sand mining pits have killed 11 in Sone river alone.  The sand pits in Swan river in Punjab has seen deaths of 8 villagers since 2013 and 3 such deaths have taken place in Banganga river in Uttarakhand.

Reporters, Activists Murdered 1 reporter in Uttar Pradesh, 2 activist in Odisha, 1 in Bihar & 1 in Tamil Nadu have been killed for opposing and exposing illegal sand mining. There have been brutal attacks on 1 reporter each in Uttarakhand & Chhattisgarh & 1 RTI activist in Kerala.

Death toll in India due to Illegal Sand Mining in 2019-20

ZoneDrowning in sand pitsMine collapseRoad accidents  Killing of Citizens/ Villagers/ FarmersKilling of Reporters/ ActivistsKilling of Govt. officialsKilling in Gang-war/ Encounter/ Infighting Total
North60318615295
West & Central92043NA2442
East26NA4434NA41
SouthNA4NA5 (+5*)1NANA15
Total952726235116193

5* construction workers in Andhra Pradesh have committed suicides due to sand scarcity following mining ban by the state government.

Threats and Attacks There have been 84 incidents of threats and attacks on citizens, reporters, activists and even on govt officials. The number of injured persons in the violent attacks especially on villagers and on the teams of police, forest guard, revenue and mining department is more than this figure.

Few available images of govt officials, reporters, activists attacked by illegal sand miners in India in 2019-20.

In North India alone 47 incidents of threats and attacks have taken place followed by 18 in West & Central India, 11 in East and 8 in South India. The main reason behind less incidents reported from West-Central, East & South region is inaccessibility to local media reports.

It seems illegal sand miners are fearlessly attacking forest guards in Himachal and Uttarakhand. Similarly, the police team in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have seen frequent attacks from illegal miners.  There have been two big violent attacks on police team: one in Kutch district of Gujarat in July 2020 and the second in Panchkula of Haryana in Nov 2020 injuring over 26 policemen.  A more detailed compilation is available here.

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

3 thoughts on “193 dead in River Sand Mining incidents in India in 2019-20

  1. *खनन के खतरनाक खेल में नदी फ़ैल, माफिया पास. शानदार रिपोर्ट . *

    *संदर्प का धन्यवाद . *

    *अरुण तिवारी *

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