Sand Mining

Riverbed Mining India 2021 Overview: Destruction of Rivers, Infrastructures, Governance

(Feature image:- Rampant sand mining damaging Yamuna’s ecology. Hridesh Joshi/Mongabay India)

The rivers and riverine communities have been going through whole range of adverse impacts on account of large scale riverbed mining operations. The illegal riverbed mining has become a pan India menace and there is hardly a river left, not being mined in the most unscientific manner.

The year 2021, despite being a pandemic year – when developmental activities and economy have faced slow down – has only seen escalation in mining related destruction. Be it threatened aquatic eco-system, precious surface and groundwater resources, costly public infrastructures or land and lives of villagers, farmers and manual miners; all have been paying a heavy price of relentless mining.

This first part of SANDRP’s Year End Overview of sand and riverbed mining sector puts together the top 10 stories from across the country showing how the mindless extraction of minor minerals has been causing major destruction to rivers and people. The following parts of the annual review would focus on state governments’ actions and judicial interventions regarding riverbed mining in 2021.

1. Uttarakhand Govt abusing disaster management laws to allow rampant mining? In November 2020, a few months before floods ravaged Uttarakhand, the deputy collector of Purnagiri in Tanakpur district announced an open auction of tenders to desilt the riverbed in Champawat’s villages.

Tenders for government work usually seek the lowest bidder, the contractor willing to do the job at the lowest cost. In this case, however, the highest bidder would get the tender. That is because the tender did not only issue a work contract, as is the usual practice, it also auctioned the right to sell to the construction and building sector all 51,183 tonnes of sand, gravel and boulders estimated to be excavated. It was one of several such tenders floated by district administrations in the hill state since January 31 2020 under the govt’s River Training Policy.

The policy lays down a procedure to “train” Uttarakhand’s rivers by excavating silt, gravel and sand from the middle of the riverbeds. Such desilting will direct the flow of the river towards its center and away from the banks, the policy says, and thus “avoid river coast erosion to prevent the loss of lives and infrastructure”.

In other words, the policy (passed without any participatory process or independent scrutiny) allows sand and boulder mining from river beds but without any impact assessments or without following any safeguards and procedures under mining and environmental laws. That is because the policy asks district administrations to invoke powers under the Disaster Management Act 2005 to auction desilting rights to private contractors. The rights are over specific river stretches and for four-month period.

The DMA empowers district magistrates to take measures to prevent disasters in their jurisdiction. There is little evidence such desilting reduces disasters, however. Quite the contrary, actually. The clearance database of the environment, forests and climate change ministry, or MoEF, doesn’t show any records for environment and forest clearances for river training works, and no compliance with the sand mining guidelines issued by the environment ministry in 2020. (17 June 2021)

2. Karnataka Rampant sand mining caused floods in Malaprabha basin An expert report revealed in 2021 that indiscriminate sand mining in the catchment area and the consequent flattening of the river bed was directly responsible for the August 2019 floods in the Malaprabha basin. Despite the warning, the sand mining – many illegal extractions is also going on – continues unabated in the Malaprabha river basin in Bagalkot, the home district of Minister for Mines and Geology Murugesh Nirani.

Sudhir Sajjan, a technical assistant to Managing Director of Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Limited (KBJNL), after studying the changes in the Malaprabha river basin, a major tributary of River Krishna, in his report ‘The flood phenomena at the Malaprabha basin’ has mentioned: “It is undoubtedly the spurt in the mining activity in the catchment area, which is the root cause for recurring floods in the river.” This was a study sanctioned by KBJNL.

But, in Bagalkot district, the authorities concerned seem to have ignored the expert’s warning and have let indiscriminate mining go on unabated. Fayaz, Bagalkot District Mines and Geology officer denied that there is illegal sand mining in the district, when asked about Sudhir Sajjan’s findings: “The department is not aware of any such report given to the KBJNL. The department this year has given sanctions to 39 sand points. The rumours about illegal sand mining are baseless.”

Sand extraction from riverbed has now turned into a major business attracting those from the district and from parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Many farmers of the district – Bagalkot is crisscrossed by Krishna and Malaprabha rivers – these days prefer extracting sand from their land or leasing their lands for big sums. Badami, Jalihaal, Hungund, Rabkavi, Banahatti, Jamkhandi, Ilkal, Bilagi and Mudhol taluks, on the banks of Malaprabha and Ghataprabha, have a rich deposit of high-quality sand. The demand for sand from these areas is high and as a result, farmers prefer sand mining to farm. The region is said to have several illegal sand points as against legal points sanctioned every year by the Mines & Geology Department.

Mindless extraction of sand has inflicted irreparable damage. The government is also losing revenue. The government now gets around Rs 1 crore as royalty from these mines every month but it will go up substantially if illegal mines are regularised, say locals. A contractor on condition of anonymity admitted that without illegal mining, it would be difficult to sustain in the business. “After paying bribes, what remains from the earnings is paltry. Hence, illegal mining and over-loading of vehicles are inevitable to remain in business,” he said.  (09 Feb. 2021)

By the end of 2019, the state government estimated the total damage caused by the floods at Rs 35,160.81 crore. Of this, Bagalkot suffered damages to the tune of Rs 3,653.63 crore while damages in Belagavi pegged at Rs 17,863 crore. “It is undoubtedly the spurt in the mining activity in the catchment area, which is the root cause for recurring floods in the river,” the report said, meticulously mapping the fields ravaged by sand mining along the river course, starting from areas near Manasapur to Khanapur, Yellur and Bailhongal.  (18 Jan. 2021)

This podcast is a part of the media campaign “Mayhem in Mines”. In this episode of The Lead, get to know the issues related to sand mining in the Malaprabha River basin and what drives illegal sand mining there.  (5 March 2021)

3. Madhya Pradesh 6 Journalists Booked 6 journalists were booked in Khargone district on July 2, 2021 for alleged rioting and abusing on the complaint of District Mining Officer (DMO), according to the police. The journalists had gone to meet the DMO on the same evening seeking his comment on the issue of rampant illegal mining and storage of sand in the district.

In the complaint, the journalists alleged that they were framed in a fake case by the DMO under the pressure of the sand mafia when they raised the issue of illegal mining, storage of sand and theft of taxes prevalent in the district. “Three days ago, NDTV ran a story on illegal mining and storage of sand in the district which had irked the contractors and government officials,” said Praveen Gangle, one of the accused journalists associated with the news website Nation Today. 

A journalists’ union of Khargone gave a written application to the district collector for a fair investigation in the matter.  In the last three months, nearly 14 journalists have been booked in Madhya Pradesh for reporting on a number of critical issues including irregularities in the management of COVID-19 & dalit atrocities. (5 July 2021)

The FIR was registered on July 2 afternoon by the Khargone police against Asif Khan, Praveen Pal, Wahid Khan, Pawan Kumar Solanki, Pradeep Gangle and Dharmendra Chouhan, who work for different national and local media outlets. Khargone mining officer Sawan Singh Chouhan said the journalists kept arguing with him and created a ruckus. “I called the journalists to my office to answer their questions. But I received an email from the head office seeking some details on mining in the district. I had to reply within a few minutes. I asked them to wait for some time, but they kept arguing with me.” (6 July 2021)

However, the 6 accused denied Chouhan’s claims. Pradeep Gangle a journalist associated with web portal Dainik Sach Express, explained that the 6 had gone to seek Chouhan’s comment for a story based on complaints made by villagers of Kumarkheda, Umarkali and nearby Mohna on increased movement of heavy vehicles loaded with sand. “We had sought an appointment but when we reached Chouhan’s office, we were asked to wait for 10 minutes. A few minutes after waiting outside his office, Chouhan came out and began leaving. It was then that we asked for a comment as we had been waiting but he responded with harsh words,” said Gangle.  (06 July 2021)

Graphic Source: Shambhavi Thakur/ News Laundry

Journalists face wrath of authorities and illegal sand mining mafia MP’s Khargone.  (28 Sept. 2021)

4. Haryana Miners playing with norms, Yamuna & people’s lives The Yamuna river has been facing excessive riverbed mining along Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states in upper segment for over last two years. There have been umpteen times when local people mainly part of Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandli have shared pictures, videos showing gross violation of norms. They have even been alerting and appealing the respective agencies including pollution control boards, district administration, mining departments, courts to take strict actions against the open violations but their pleas have largely been ignored.

This stretch is so much mining ridden that in the last two years more than 30 people particularly teenagers have died after falling in deep sand mining pits. Similarly more than a dozen innocent people lost their live in accidents involving the transportation of Yamuna sand. The damage to village roads, flood protection structures, crops is immense. The noise and air pollution due to unabated mining operations have taken heavy toll on villagers’ health.

Against the norms, the heavy machines can be seen digging sand by entering active flowing course of river thus creating havoc for aquatic eco-system. Similarly, creation of cross sectional bunds, diversion of river channel, mining throughout nights is rampant. Local people, reporters are saying that local politicians are involved in illegal, destructive mining practices.

It is surprising that the river is facing such a massive scale mining despite deficit monsoon rains for the last two years. There has been no attempt by mining departments of both states to assess the replenishment against the already excavated minerals. The excessive mining practices have been exhausting the shallow sandy aquifers resulting in river running dry at most of places upstream of Delhi.

The fishermen, boatmen, riverbed farmers have been adversely affected by sand mafia and a stagnant river. Several areas in both the states which are dependent on Yamuna water including Delhi are reeling under severe water crisis but there has been no intention and effort to halt the illegal, unsustainable, mechanized mining operations. The prevailing scenario in Yamuna river mirrors the plight of most of the rivers and riverine people across the country warranting serious overhaul of sand mining governance before the society is made to pay a heavy price.  (03 May 2021)

5. Goa River systems in peril due to sand mining An informative piece by Dr Antonio Mascarenhas, a former Scientist, NIO (National Institute of Oceanography). If illegal sand is to be reimbursed to the river, how and where is sand to be dumped back? Regrettably, studies on sand budget of rivers of Goa was never done. The composition, actual thickness, lateral distribution and volume of sand deposits in rivers are not known. A scientific sand mining policy that governs the quantity of sand to be extracted from a specific site is lacking, although there are guidelines and criteria meant to control such mining.

A scientific study on the impact of mining on rivers is again lacking. Importantly, any activity in tidally influenced saline rivers is governed under the realm of coastal laws (CRZ); specific distances on both banks are classified as No Development Zones where no commercial activity is allowed. All these regulations are thrown to the winds. Paradoxically, in river Tiracol, sand extraction is allowed along the southern Goa river bank; but such activity on Maharashtra side is prohibited.

Sand deposits are entirely composed of silica or quartz that constitutes the most dominant mineral of the planet earth. The Indian peninsula for example is mostly made of granites and gneisses in which silica is major mineral. Sand generated due to erosive processes ultimately finds its way towards the ocean.

Sand in the rivers, sandy beaches, dunes and coastal plains are all siliceous. But the key issue is how much sand is to be extracted and from where. Beaches and dunes are protected by law. River beds can be mined only manually. Existing laws are snubbed. Hence the proliferation of sand mafias. Natural sand is a part of the ‘commons’ and is meant for collective benefit; sand is not the property of a selected few. (20 Jan 2021)

6. Bihar Sand mafia gobbles up Sher Shah’s causeway The five-century-old and 4km-long stone causeway built across the Sone river by emperor Sher Shah Suri (1486AD-1545AD) as part of the famous Grand Trunk Road was considered to be the most significant archaeological find in Bihar after Independence. It was virtually intact when Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials discovered it in 2016.

Today, the sand mafia is destroying it with impunity. They have wantonly damaged the causeway at many places; several portions of the structure are collapsing under the weight of huge sand-carrying vehicles and earthmovers. The causeway, located between Dehri in Rohtas district and Barun in Aurangabad district, is also being used as a jetty to illegally mine and load sand from the river. Mounds of sand are stacked along the causeway.

Several huge stone slabs used in the structure are missing. The locals say they are being stolen to feed the stone-crusher units illegally active in the vicinity. Armed gangs roam around the area, dissuading common people from going anywhere near the causeway. Locals allege the nefarious trade is conducted in a nexus with the police and district administration officials. All this is happening despite CM Nitish Kumar’s frequent visits to archaeological sites and his vow to protect and conserve them. The leader is yet to visit the causeway.

The causeway subsiding under pressure of heavy vehicles engaged in illegal sand mining from Sone river. Image: Sanjay Choudhary/The Telegraph

The 20-feet-wide causeway made from 10-feet-long dressed sandstone slabs having a height and width of one foot each runs across the entire river bed of the Sone to bridge its two banks. The causeway was a part of the fabled Grand Trunk Road — known as the Uttarapath (the North Route) in ancient times and Sadak-e-Azam or Badshahi Sadak during the medieval era — stretching from Sonargaon and Chittagong in present-day Bangladesh to the Balkh region of Kabul in Afghanistan. The GT Road was considered to be of much military, commercial and transportation importance.

The causeway, which had got buried under sand on the riverbed, was discovered when copious amounts of water released by the Bansagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh washed away the sand in 2016. The causeway was found by ASI deputy superintending archaeologist Shanker Sharma as part of the Uttarapath mapping project that now figures on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage status. Since bridges of such span were not constructed in the 16th century, the causeway was an engineering marvel that allowed people and animal-drawn vehicles to cross the river.  (26 Dec. 2021)

7. Tamil Nadu Sand mafia opens dam shutters, ryots protest The check dam, after the recent copious rain, had water to a depth of 20 feet, much to the elation of farmers in Balur, Kotthur and Madinapalli villages. However, they were shocked when they found that the check dam across the Malallar river was bone dry, though the dam had water the previous day.

A view of the check dam at Balur near Badrapalli: DT Next

They immediately informed local PWD officials who rushed to the spot and on investigating found that three of the dam’s shutters were welded in the open position. An official on condition of anonymity said: “The culprits first opened the shutters manually by using the handles on the facility and then when the water drained they ensured that the shutters remained open by welding them in that position.”

Investigation revealed that this was the handiwork of the local sand mafia which had over the years become emboldened by the remoteness of the location and lack of official action. Though local farmers had on many occasions set fire to the sieves used by the mafia to winnow fine sand, it only resulted in the culprits lying low for some time before returning to their activity.  (06 Feb. 2021)

8. Odisha Subarnarekha water level sinks The Subarnarekha river is said to be the lifeline of north Balasore, but its usual water level has been down due to continuous lifting of sand from its riverbed. The riverbed is sinking every year with rampant mining of sand by the Bengal mafia, a report said. The deepening of the riverbed has resulted in massive erosion of its banks at many places and change of its course. The falling water level of the river has caused problems for irrigation of farmlands. River water is out of reach for farmers in the riparian pockets, locals alleged.

Image source: Orissa Post

It has also impacted the groundwater level in the area. The groundwater has gone down by 100 ft this summer. Many tube wells have been defunct. Local people have expressed concern over rampant sand mining in the river and its disastrous consequences. They had submitted a memorandum to their MLA seeking to save the river.

A 79-km stretch of its riverbed passes through Jaleswar, Basta, Bhograi and Baliapal blocks. Thousands of farmers living in the riparian village along its banks in West Bengal and Odisha have been growing vegetables using its water. Thousands of fishermen also depend on the river. As sand of Subarnarekha has a high demand for construction work, mafia of both the states have been plundering its sand over the years. Hundreds of dumpers are deployed to supply sand from the river on a daily basis, thus causing a huge revenue loss for the state govt. Reports said, there are 22 illegal sand mines in the river under Jaleswar block. But no action is being taken against the mafia, locals alleged.  (11 April 2021) 

Excess sand lifting from the Budhabalanga river bed leading to land erosion and lack of compensation for the same, has sparked anger among locals of Badasahi tehsil in Mayurbhanj. Absence of local development as part of royalty is also contributing to the simmering discontentment.  (07 June 2021)

9. Andhra Pradesh 135 miners narrowly escape deluge in Krishna About 135 drivers and cleaners, who were engaged on sand lorries and tractors were rescued from Krishna River, when the flood level increased suddenly in the early hours on Saturday (Aug. 14). About 132 lorries and two tractors were trapped in the river and had to be rescued by officials. Water level in the river raised suddenly when the officials opened the gates at Munneru Vaagu in Telangana around midnight, the officials said. “The lorries and tractors went into Krishna River from Chevitikallu village in Kanchikacherla mandal, to load sand last night. Due to flash floods, all the drivers and workers along with the vehicles were caught in the flood,” Mr. Siddharth Kaushal said.  (14 Aug. 2021)

Over 75,000 cusecs of water came from upstream Dr K L Rao Sagar Project at Pulichintala while another 5,000 cusecs came from Munneru rivulet due to heavy rain in the catchment, revenue officials said. Sand excavation was being carried out at a reach inside the river.

There had been no warning about the impending flood flow and so we went about our work. But we could not return because of the water surge and our vehicles got stuck, some truck drivers said. Revenue officials said they too had no prior information about the flood flow. As the Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir upstream Pulichintala got filled to the brim, water was being discharged downstream. Since a crest gate got damaged at Pulichintala on August 5, there was no way to impound it there and hence the discharge, the local tehsildar said. Unless water is let out downstream from the Prakasam Barrage in Vijayawada, the flow at Chevitikallu can’t be curtailed.  (14 Aug. 2021)  (21 Sept. 2021)

The above incidents show serious irregularities and violations in mining and dam operations in the state. Mining in rivers is generally prohibited during monsoon months and night hours. The upstream dam released water in rivers without alerting concerned officials. Fortunately the miners were rescued otherwise it could have been one of the biggest mining related disasters in the country. 

10. Jharkhand Mining, corruption reason behind bridge collapse A bridge on Kanchi river which was constructed just 3 years ago spending Rs. 13 crore collapsed in the afternoon of May 27, 2021 amid heavy rainfall caused by cyclone Yaas. The bridge was 600 meters long and was connecting Tamar, Bundu and Sonahatu areas of Ranchi District.

The residents of the village Budhadih said that there were many flaws in the construction of the bridge. The pillars of the bridge were built in the swamp itself and therefore the base of bridge remained weak. According to the locals one of the reasons behind the collapse is the illegal sand mining around the riverbed. Sand smugglers extract the sand with the help of the JCB in the river. The Government has not taken any action to stop them.

Two bridges had collapsed before this due to illegal mining. According to the locals, the bridge was constructed by the contractor Ranjan Singh in Ranchi. 2 years ago; another bridge on the Kanchi river constructed by the same contractor had also collapsed.  (30 May 2021)

The linking roads of the bridge were yet to be completed, and the bridge was not even formally inaugurated. A probe into the incident was demanded.  (28 May 2021)

Local villagers say that sand was constantly being illegally excavated in the Kanchi river, which weakened the bridge. If there was administrative action in time, this bridge could have survived. Villagers also said that the Harain bridge of Sonahatu on the Kanchi River and the Balamdih bridge of Tamar had already been damaged and now the Haradih bridge was also demolished. The sand was continuously being mined just below the bridge. Despite the constant demand from the villagers, no one took any step towards stopping the illegal mining of sand.  (27 May 2021)

This Hindi report cites illegal sand mining, the reason behind the bridge collapse.  (27 May 2021)

This report says that the structure of Badka bridge in Itkhori in Ranchi was facing threat from illegal sand mining close to its pillars. The mining activities went on unabated all through the lock down period & the govt took no action.  (24 May 2021)

Another report mentioned about illegal sand mining near Sudamdeeh bridge on Damodar river in Jhariya consitituency posing safety threats to bridge structure. According to locals deep, mechanized mining was being done on the orders of GM of PDCL Thermal Plant without required permission. A lot of sand and mud had accumulated behind the bridge after its construction which was obstructing water supply to the thermal pump.  (01 June 2021)

As per this report illegal sand mining had impacted at least 9 bridges built on Damodar, Swarnrekha, Koel, Shankh and other rivers in the state. Most of these are new bridges, but the way sand was being removed from the pillars, they may collapse within few years like Kanchi river bridge.  According to the engineers during floods, huge amount of high quality sand gets accumulated near the pillars. Hence miners begin lifting sand in close proximity of pillars.  (02 June 2021)

Other Relevant Reports

Jammu & Kashmir Riverbed mining woes for fishes The aquatic life in the freshwater streams of Kashmir faces threats from riverbed mining and rising pollution. Increasing mechanised riverbed mining in the river Jhelum and its tributaries, to extract gravel, boulders, and sand for construction purposes, has threatened fish habitats. Previously, mining contracts were restricted to Kashmir’s local residents. But in 2019, after India scrapped Article 370, mining was opened to non-local contractors.

Owais Iqbal Dar, a researcher in aquatic toxicology from Hannan University, said, “Illegal mining of sand or gravel from the riverbeds is also a major cause; it causes the destruction of the habitat where the fish species is feeding or breeding. It destroys breeding as well as feeding grounds of the fishes.”

On the banks of river Lidder in the outskirts of Pahalgam, sewage and construction waste are also altering the freshwater habitats. The resulting impact falls on the fisheries sector which supports over 93,000 people in the region.  (17 Nov. 2021)

Punjab Ropar villagers protest illegal mining as tubewells go dry  As the authorities have failed to keep a check on illegal mining in the district, residents of several villages on the banks of Swan and Sutlej have decided to take up the cudgels against the mining mafia. A large number of people have been sitting on a dharna near Algran bridge since March 15, demanding a clampdown on the mafia.

People stage a dharna against illegal mining at Algran village in Ropar. Tribune photo

Protesters said deep pits left after illegal mining not only posed a threat to their lives, but had also pushed groundwater further down, rendering several tubewells useless. Earlier, the riverbed was dug up to 10 feet and groundwater recharged through it used to maintain high levels in adjoining villages. Experts say a riverbed is dug up to 50 feet and the water recharge also starts from the same depth, resulting in groundwater depletion. This also leads to groundwater pollution.  (01 April 2021)

Himachal Pradesh Mining mafia active in forests The mining mafia has not even spared forestland in Jaisinghpur and Palampur of Kangra district. As little material is left in the leased areas of rivers and rivulets, the mafia is now extracting sand and stones from the reserved forests in board daylight.

The Forest Department is aware of the situation but has not acted against the culprits. Green forests, as a result, are under threat in these two subdivisions. A number of tractor-trailers transporting mined material can be seen often. In Bandhau and Bairghatta villages, deep trenches have been dug to extract sand, stones and gravel from forests adjoining Mol Khud.

Illegal mining on at Bairghatta and Bandhau forests. The Tribune

Villagers say that they have been opposing illegal mining, but there has been no decline in the activity. They had also approached the mining, police, and forest departments but no action had been taken against the mafia. As a result, a number of natural water resources are drying up, the water level in local rivulets has gone down, rivers are facing the problem of soil erosion leading to floods and fertile land has gone barren.

Mol Khud passing through these villages has emerged as the biggest centre of illegal mining where several tippers and tractors can be seen extracting material from riverbed and the forestland. The miners have also constructed roads through forest and government land to reach the sites. The state forest, police and mining departments have failed to enforce the directions of the NGT and the government to earmark the areas allotted for mining with flags so that illegal activity could be curbed.  (20 Nov. 2021)

Uttar Pradesh Mining officer destroys labourer’s cart A mining officer in Amroha district on Monday (Jan. 18) had the bullock cart of a poor labourer, Israr Ali, chopped with an axe and its tyres slashed, as “punishment” for ferrying sand to a construction site. Spotting the loaded bullock cart, the mining officer flew into a rage. Despite Ali producing the bill of purchase for the sand from a shop selling building materials, the officer took the cart in custody and chopped its parts using an axe.

According to Ali, a resident of Panju Saray, “I run a bullock cart on rent. On Monday (Jan. 18), my cart was hired by a banquet hall owner for carrying sand from a building materials shop. As per the order, I loaded the sand in my cart and was carrying it to the banquet hall. I had the bill of purchase for it. On the way, mining officer A K Singh appeared on the scene at TP crossing and asked me to stop my cart. I followed his instruction. He took me to a police picket where they misbehaved with me and demanded money as a bribe. When I refused, they took possession of my cart, chopped its wooden parts and punctured its tyres with an axe. I’m a poor man. The cart was my only source of income.”  (20 Jan. 2021)

Kerala Illegal sand mining rampant in Chaliyar Noticing the rising market price of river sand and its demand, illegal sand miners are again back to their unlawful business in the Chaliyar river near Mavoor. Unlike in the past, the labourers employed for the illegal sand extraction hoodwink the revenue department and the police squads and cart off the quarried stock from the isolated areas.

Customised country boats made of solid metal are reportedly used for the purpose at night. Some of the local residents and youngsters at Mavoor, Peruvayal, Feroke, and Beypore are also suspected of working with the sand mining labourers to monitor the movement of checking squads and get easy money as commission. In support of the police and the revenue squads, some of the local administrators have formed their own vigilance committees with the participation of local volunteers.

Many such local bodies and the local environmental organisations have called upon the district administration to form a stronger patrol squad that can intercept the illegal boats and sand-laden trucks. What they want is the arrest of the illegal players, who escape from the spot using their capabilities in swimming. Fishermen and migrant labourers are also suspected to be a part of such illegal mining gangs for raking in quick bucks. According to some of the private building contractors in the city, many of the illegal sand miners in the Chaliyar are also experts in mixing the river sand with the impure sea sand for high revenue. There are small scale and large scale purchasers, who fall prey to such trickeries which can cause huge damage to constructions, they said.  (06 Nov. 2021)

West Bengal Mining pollution is threatening indigenous groups Most of those people live in Totopara, a village in the Alipurduar district. It lies on the fringes of Jaldapara National Park – a protected forest known for its population of tigers and gaur (or Indian bison), in an ecosystem typical of the Himalayan foothills known as the Terai. On the outskirts of the village is one of many India-Bhutan border checkpoints. Just beyond this, on the Bhutan side, is a stone-crushing operation: the main source of the Totos’ problems.

 “The mining in Bhutan has been making life difficult for us but no one seems to be bothered,” said Reshma. “The natural streams that once remained full of water have died. We have to depend on a lone active stream inside the forest for our daily water needs. But it also fails to fulfil our requirements during the extreme summers.”

The checkpoint at the India-Bhutan border next to Totopara. The stone-crushing operations in Bhutan can be seen in the distance, behind the checkpoint (Image: Gurvinder Singh/The Third Pole)

In some places, stream beds have become wider due to soil erosion, though they are dry except during the monsoon. When it rains, the stream near Totopara rages so close to homes that villagers have had to place boulders in wire meshes to stop the soil from being washed away. Ashok Toto, 53, pointed to the stream and said: “It was so small that we used to jump and cross it in our childhood. It used to be at least 45 feet [about 15 metres] from the village. Now it is just eight feet away, forcing us to take measures to save ourselves.”  (02 June 2021)

Gujarat Illegal mining ‘rampant’ in Bhavnagar Environmentalists Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) in a letter to the Union secretary, MoEF, have said that “illegal” sand mining in Bhavnagar, coastal district, is “contaminating and degrading the ground water, rivers, lakes, other water resources and check dams.”

Citing specific instances and seeking immediate intervention, the letter, whose copy has been sent to the Gujarat chief secretary as also state environment department officials, says, “In addition to adverse environmental impacts (for example, on ground water quality and quantity) illegal sand and lignite mining also stand to have adverse impacts on agriculture and animal husbandry dependent livelihoods in 30 villages.” (9 May 2021)

Illegal sand mining ‘destroying’ environment in Bhavnagar despite Green Tribunal order.  (28 May 2021)

Maharashtra Stone mining chips away Godavari ecosystem The foothills of the Brahmagiri mountain range in Maharashtra, where the Godavari River originates, has emerged as a coveted destination for private developers to buy land and build farmhouses and resorts.

Reserve map boundary from Nashik Forest Department. Source: Mongabay India

A citizens’ collective of social and environmental organisations, has been protesting against the stone mining and extraction and exploitation of resources in the Brahmagiri and Sahyadri mountain ranges. Activists allege that changes to this terrain through land levelling and stone mining could increase soil erosion and destroy the ecosystem that provides water to six states.  (29 Sept. 2021)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (

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