Higher Courts and NGT has been giving numerous orders and judgments, but the state is happily getting away with non implementation in most cases. How can we ensure that court orders get implemented? Why is the judiciary not concerned about non implementation of its orders? This was one of the central message of the East Zone River Sand Mining Dialogue on Nov 21, 2020 (4-6.30 pm) as part of the India Rivers Week 2020[i] theme “Is Sand Mining Killing our Rivers?” Additional Director R B Lal from Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in his presentation agreed that the sustainable sand mining guidelines have not been implemented. One would have liked to hear how we can achieve their implementation and that MoEF also values participation of people at the grass roots in sand mining governance. He did not mention the local people even once, while praising MoEF’s emphasis on technology in the sand mining guidelines.
The Dialogue was very ably moderated by Dr Malavika Chauhan of Tata Trusts and Dr Debashish Sen of People’s Science Institute (Dehra Dun). This was Fourth in a series of Zonal River Sand Mining dialogues being held after North Zone[ii], South Zone[iii] and West Zone[iv] Dialogues held earlier.
East Zone River Sand Mining The East Zone Sand Mining Status report[vi] titled “Extracting River Bed Materials: East Zone Report” was presented by Dr Ravi Chopra, a recipient of IIT-Bombay’s 2012 Distinguished Alumnus Award and a former Director of People’s Science Institute. Some key points from Dr Chopra’s presentation:
- Himalayan Rivers are rich in water and sediment, but low in energy in the plains. The Southern tributaries of Ganga have limited sediment supply and bring more gravel. The sand of the Southern tributaries like Sone River are preferred in construction industry, the Himalayan sand is used in some other works like road building.
- Farakka and other dams & barrages limit the amount of sediments that reach the deltas.
- Sand mining releases heavy metal ions otherwise locked in the sediments, which was one of the reasons for protests against sand mining in Thoubal River in Manipur.
- Sand mining leads to lowering of groundwater table, which is seen in Kulsi River in Assam and drying of irrigation canals in Jharkhand, in both places, paddy cultivation has been affected.
- Illegal sand mining is rampant in all the states in the East zone, except possibly Nagaland, where sand is mainly supplied from Karbi Anglong district of Assam.
- Ganga has shifted 5-6 km away from the ghats in Patna in the last 4 decades primarily due to the illegal sand mining going on in the upstream.
- The banks and embankments are under threat due to the sand mining at many places, one prominent one being Dibrugarh in Assam. The Patalbari building in Chandanagar near Kolkata and the Red Cross Building in Kolkata are having cracks.
- There is very limited success in pushing alternatives of sand, if at all. There is need for political will, which is clearly absent.
- Dredging of Ganga for the National Waterways for almost 1000 kms is a major threat to the aquatic life in the river, including tiniest micro-benthic organisms to the largest Dolphins, India’s National Aquatic Animal, in Ganga, Brahamputra, Barak and Kulsi, all the four rivers where it is found.
- Illegal miners have been indulging in violence wherever anyone opposes such mining.
- Government depend on illegally mined sand, unfortunately as it helps generate revenue. In Manipur, when HC banned illegal mining, the govt gave permits when the transporters and workers agitated. This story gets repeated in state after state. The court orders thus gets bypassed and mostly remain unimplemented.
- Chopping down of hillocks for sand, happening all over, is worrying.
- The guidelines have to be river specific. Five Ha in Ganga may be small but in a small river flowing from Dehradun to Ganga, it could be a kilometer length of the river. So one size fits all kind of regulations are not helpful.
- Its very hard to achieve any significant change in this situation.
The full East Zone presentation can be downloaded here.
Rajiv Sinha: Sand mining guidelines remains unimplemented Prof Rajiv Sinha is a well known Professor of Earth Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. In his presentation titled “Sediment Dynamics vis-a-vis Sand Extraction”. He said the Eastern Zone is dominated by the Himalayan Rivers, which are highly sediment rich. In-channel sedimentation is natural process, worsened due to human actions. However, the 2500 km of Ganga does not have uniform sedimentation through out. There are hotspots of sedimentation along the river. At some spots, strategic sand extraction may be required. The indiscriminate sand extraction is totally disastrous for the rivers. Prof Sinha said the central question is how do we strike a balance between human needs and need for River ecosystem protection?
Prof Sinha was categorical that the MoEF’s 2020 sand mining guidelines remains unimplemented for lack of will and resources. He estimated that between Chatara and Birpur along the Kosi river, there is accumulated sediment between the embankments, to the tune of 408 Million Cubic Meters (MCM). Between Birput and Baltara, the quantum is about 1080 MCM. In fact, many of the places where embankments along Kosi has breached in the last 3-4 decades coincide with the places where sediment has accumulated. Prof Sinha clarified that the Cratonic sands are more in demand as they are coarser, feldspar rich and much more resistant compared to the Himalayan sands and hence in greater demand. Himalayan sands are mica rich and also high in clay content and hence not suitable for high strength construction work.
The full presentation of Dr Rajiv Sinha can be downloaded here.
Nachiket Kelkar: Study Typologies of Sand Mining, Impacts and River Regulation Nachiket Kelkar of ATREE, who studies the ecology of river dolphins, fisheries, other freshwater biodiversity, and human livelihoods in the Gangetic plains, in his presentation titled “Sand mining and river bottom dredging: impacts on river ecology and the environment”, included river bottom dredging as it is important to East Zone. Two mega projects that are important in the zone include the National Waterways Project as nearly 6000 km of waterways projects are planned here and the Inter Linking of Rivers Project where East Zone is considered a major water donor. Both of them would majorly alter sediment fluxes in the rivers of East Zone.
Interestingly, Nachiket described various different modes of sand mining including in-stream sand mining (wet pit mining, sediment traps, biggest impact), floodplain sand mining (wet and dry pit mining, bar scalping, direct and indirect impacts) and terrace sand mining (bar scalping, dry/ wet pit mining, indirect impacts). All riverine features are used by different elements of river biodiversity and also by the people. There are variable impacts of different types of sand mining on different species. Highly regulated rivers like Son, Teesta and Damodar have lower biodiversity and higher impacts of sand mining. Less regulted rivers like Gandak, Brahamputra or Sundarbans Rivers have more biodiversity and less impacts of sand mining.
River bottom dredging can be fairly impactful activity which can be described as four Rs: Re-suspension (of sediment in water column), Release (of heavy metals and pollutants, biological contaminants like fecal coliforms), Residual (the released contaminants remain in the river even after the dredging has stopped) and Risk (these then create risk for the ecology and different species). The dredging can mobilise toxic Arsenic in the river water. Fish and fisheries are easily going to be the most impacted by sand mining and river bottom dredging.
In Gandak river, cobble mining from the riverbed has also become lucrative small scale business for the fisher people. He ended with a suggestion that we need to think if we can allow the Single Large Operation or Several Small Scale Operations (SLOSS argument), and that always assuming that small scale operations are harmless may not be correct. Both are likely to have similar impacts on the River.
The full presentation of Nachiket Kelkar can be downloaded here.
Jharna Acharya: Sand mining destroys water holding capacity & fisheries livelihoods Jharna is a social worker and field researcher of folk culture, indigenous culture and archeology and represented Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF) at the Dialogue. In her presentation in Bengali, with some translations provided by Siddharth Agarwal, titled “Effect of Sand Mining on Fishing Communities: Subarnarekha and Kangsabati”, she said that in sand mining, machines are being used to take sand out from deep depths, the folly of which is not understood. Sand holds the river water and we are destroying the water holding capacity of the river, in complete contradiction of the water conservation and rain water harvesting message that is given to us.
She said that the mechanized sand mining is creating deep pools of 50-60 feet depth which also lead to shifting of rivers rapidly, affecting surrounding areas. All over the region around Subarnarekha and Kangsabati rivers where she works, the fisherfolks that were earlier dependent on the rivers are finding themselves completely helpless today as fish have hugely reduced. 20 years ago they were able to survive, but now have to look for other labour work to sustain themselves. The very character of the rivers has changed, with no fish, little water and more floods. When sand mining started, the fisherfolk would get some labour work, but once mechanized sand mining started, they lost even that. With loss of river and also labour work, some of the fisherfolk have turned to collecting gravel from the river. Recently when there were attempts at mechanization of collection of gravel, they opposed it. There are small scale efforts by the groups like DMF and DISHA to cultivate fish in the pools created by sand mining to sustain the livelihoods of the fisherfolks. They are also trying to revive the rivers through Nadi Bachao Andolan.
The presentation of Jharana Acharya can be downloaded here.
Sudarshan Das: NGT gives landmark judgment, but remains unimplemented Shri Sudarshan Das founded Odisha Environment Congress (OEC) in 2010 and is convener of Mahanadai Bachao Andolan. His presentation titled “Sand Mining in Subarnarekha River”, was focused on sand mining in 27.3 km long stretch of Subarnarekha River in Odisha where Das had intervened, out of total 395 km length of the river flowing through three states. This 27.3 km stretch is in three tehsils of Balasore district, partly the border is shared with W Bengal (Paschim Midnapore district), before the river reaches Bay of Bengal. In this stretch 10 mining blocks are leased out and there are many more illegally mined areas. Miners at even the permitted blocks go way beyond the permitted area. Subarnarekha is known as Hoang Ho River (famous flood prone, silt laden river of China) of North Odisha because of its tendency to change its course. The sand mining leads to erosion at Balidangri on left bank of the river, leading to loss of structures like school, houses and temple buildings, among others. In just three panchayats over 300 families have lost their land. Affected People approached many authorities, but did not get justice.
Hence they approached the National Green Tribunal in 2016. Das said that in a landmark 23 pages judgment in Sept 2018 the NGT ordered a study of the impacts and formation of restoration plan and assessment of the damage to the river and people by NGT appointed committee as well as by the ICFRE (Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education-Dehradun), to be facilitated by the regional office of CPCB. NGT directed strict action against illegal miners and officers responsible for the same, including criminal proceedings. NGT also directed that a judge of the Jharkhand High Court be given the task of ensuring that directions of NGT are implemented.
Das said that however, as we see today, again the mafia are controlling the river, riverbed and sand mining. Ironically, the directions of the NGT are not being implemented by the officials. In all 12 rivers of Odisha, sand mining is rampant, possibly with the exception of Bahuda river. This is affecting the people, the river and its biodiversity.
The full presentation of Shri Sudarshan Das can downloaded from here.
MoEF official shows faith in technology, none in the people: Has no clue how to improve from the current abject failure in sand mining governance Dr. R. B. Lal is currently Additional Director (Scientist ‘E’) and Member Secretary, Expert Appraisal Committee (Industry-3 Sector) with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. He spoke on “Barriers, Rules, Guidelines on Sustainable Sand Mining”. He said the four important pillars of Sustainable sand mining are: District authority, State Mines and Geology department, Union Ministry of Mines and MoEF. Sand mining is regulated under MMDR Act and State Mineral concession rules. Till EIA notification 2006 there was no requirement for Env clearance for sand mining and even after that it was for more than 5 ha area, using which most miners broke their mining area into parcels less then 5 ha. This lead to lot of illegal mining in the country. He repeated several times that the EMP requirement cannot be same for the 1 ha, 2 ha, 10 ha, 100 ha mine areas, it should be different, in the process giving the escape routes the way MoEF gave in EIA notification 2006. But the MoEF official did not provide any solution to stop the menace of illegal sand mining. He said January 15, 2016 notification brought out the sustainable sand mining guidelines. This has been challenged in the NGT and Supreme Court.
The MoEF official also kept mentioning the use of Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence and IT enabled services, bar coded transit permits and monitoring transit of sand through technology. The guidelines also talked about replenishment study, district survey report, district mining plan, annual audit, etc. The spokesman for the most important regulator kept saying IF we can implement this 2016 or 2020 guidelines, all problems will be solved, these guidelines are very important and so on. But the regulator had clearly, absolutely no clue how to implement it, nor did he talk about MoEF responsibility in abject failure of regulating sand mining in India. On implementation, he happily transferred the responsibility to state government. Most shocking was the fact that in his entire presentation, the MoEF official did not mention the role of the local communities even once. The MoEF clearly has absolutely no faith in the local people having any role in governance of sand mining.
Dr Gopal Krishna: Non compliance is the norm, compliance is an exception Dr. Gopal Krishna is an advocate, practicing in Patna High Court & is a law and public policy researcher. Gopal Krishna began by saying that the NGT in a noteworthy (for describing the process necessary for sand mining) judgment in Oct 2014 about 26 sand ghats in Banka district of Bihar, talked about the non compliance with the laws, the Supreme Court order in Deepak Kumar vs State of Haryana case and district survey report. But the NGT failed to extend that to all the 23 districts and over 400 sand ghats of Bihar. Dr Krishna said that the NGT has been doing this repeatedly in sand mining cases. Non compliance has been the norm and compliance has been an exception in sand mining situation.
There was another NGT order recently about mining in Sone river in Bihar. In both Banka and Sone river case, NGT missed the opportunity of requiring a cumulative impact assessment and also punishing the officials who were found complicit in their duties. He remarked that in the face of continuous non compliance, the law in regard to sand mining has been deploying artificial reason. The net annual social benefit of sand mining is very limited with low amount of revenue generated, small number of people employed. Cumulative impact assessment has to be the basis of decision making. The MoEF’s sand mining guidelines that Dr Lal mentioned are based on half reasons, he said. Gopal said that I agree with Dr Rajiv Sinha that the reference state of the river is non negotiable.
In Conclusion It is clear the East Zone river sand mining dialogue was full of many remarkable insights as highlighted above. The participation of the MoEF official is welcome, but one expected a more candid and clearer presentation particularly in the face of almost universal situation of violations. There was insufficient focus on North East India in the dialogue, though the team tried its best to get people from that region on the panel.
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