Sand Mining

Riverbed Mining India 2021: 2 Bridges Collapsed, 23 Threatened

Riverbed mining activities in India has not only been affecting river ecology, geo-morphology in multiple adverse ways but also leading to collapse of crucial infrastructures along rivers. This includes dams, barrages, bridges, drinking water projects, embankments etc. In 2021, there have been several of such incidents particularly damaging or threatening the bridges across the country most of which we have tried to compile here.

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.

According to the locals one of the reasons behind the collapse is the illegal sand mining around the riverbed.  Sanatan Prabhat

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 machines 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 lockdown period & the govt took no action.  (24 May 2021)

Another report mentions about illegal sand mining near Sudamdeeh bridge on Damodar river in Jhariya constituency 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.  (1 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 rivers close to 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)

Jarangdih-Khetko bridge in danger due to sand mining (Dainik Jagran)

The existence of Jarangdih-Khetko bridge is in danger. If repairs are not made soon, a major accident can occur at any time. This bridge is built on Damodar river between Jarangdih of Bermo block and Khetko settlement of Petarwar block in Bermo subdivision. Illegal sand mining and lifting is going on in full swing near the bridge. Due to this the pillar of this bridge is getting weak. However administration is not paying attention to this.  (24 Jan. 2022)

Unabated mining is damaging several bridges in Dhanbad district. The indiscriminate mining is shaking the foundation of the bridges and culverts on the rivers. These things came to the fore in the investigation of the Chief Engineer of the Road Construction Department. Illegal mining is being done indiscriminately in Tundi and Nirsa of the district. The bridge connecting Dhanbad-Jamtara at Bajra Ghat of Barakar river is under threat due to illegal sand mining. (02 Feb. 2022)

Uttarakhand Illegal mining behind Jakhan bridge collapse Locals believed that illegal mining could be the main reason for the collapse of the Dehradun-Rishikesh bridge near Rani Pokhari village on Aug. 27 2021 during heavy rainfall. According to the locals, due to illegal mining, the pillars under the bridge went hollow. The bridge was estimated to remain intact for at least 100 years. However, it collapsed in its 50th year, sources said.

From the central road (Rajmarg), the construction of another bridge was approved along with this bridge. However, it has not been constructed. Uttarakhand has been witnessing heavy downpour for the past three-four days. The Rishikesh-Devprayag, Rishikesh-Tehri and Dehradun-Mussoorie roads have been closed due to landslides caused by heavy rainfall.  (27 Aug. 2021)

While PWD accepted mining as one of the reasons, local people blame it solely on unabated mining even during night hours. Mining in Jakhan river was banned in May 2019. However the mafia continued mining during night hours which was once even seen by the Additional Commissioner Garhwal Mandal. In Sept 2020, for the protection of the foundation and pillar under the bridge, the PWD had allotted Rs 40 lakh. The minerals being used for maintenance were dug up only 50 meters away from the bridge on which forest department had fined the contractor.  (31 Aug. 2021)

Powerful politicians turn against those who take action against illegal mining, but locals are blowing the lid off vested interests behind rampant mining and bending of rules. News Click

PWD engineers used to boast that this bridge would last over 100 years. The state government immediately attributed the bridge collapse to heavy rains, but residents of the nearby Rani Pokhari village blamed the collapse on rampant sand mining. “We have made several complaints against sand mining to the authorities but no one listened to us,” said Vinod Rawat, an elderly farmer from the village.  (20 Sept. 2021)

Villagers alleged that in 2018-19, the Forest Development Corporation had carried excessive mining near Ranipokhari bridge creating deep pits in riverbed.   (31 Aug. 2021)

This report mentions about a bridge collapse incident on Song river in Maldevta Dehradun. (21 Sep 2021) 

Kotdwar Illegal mining: 3 bridges in danger, 4 power poles damaged  Indiscriminate mining in the name of channelization has not only ruined the foundation of the bridges, but the continuous movement of overloaded dumpers is also affecting the capacity of the 3 bridges in Kotdwar (Uttarakhand). The bridges in the area have a capacity of 20 tons, whereas the mining vehicles are often loaded with 40-50 tonnes. Sometimes a row of dumpers pass over the bridges. Thus weakening of the pillars of the bridges.

Thousands of tons of minerals are being taken out of the rivers every day from Malan and Sukhro rivers. Surprisingly, this mining in the name of channelization is happening in the forest area and the forest department is completely turning a blind eye on this. While, it is clearly mentioned in the work order issued by the forest department for the channelization work that the mineral will not be taken out of the river. Thus it becomes clear that the mineral extracted from the river had to be deposited on both the banks of the river so that the river flow remained in the middle. But this did not happen. As a result, the three bridges built across the Sukhro and Malan rivers are under threat.

Apart from this, the Uttarakhand Power Corp Ltd (UPCL) is also suffering due to illegal mining. 4 electric poles of UPCL collapsed due to alleged illegal mining being done in the name of channelization by the Forest Department in Sukhro river of Kotdwar area. The electrical wiring was also damaged. According to UPCL officials, new electric poles and wire were installed in the affected area costing it more than 3 lakh. (31 Aug 2021)

Haldwani Mining damages Gaula bridge again In last week of Aug 2021, officials found that the mining activities had damaged the safety walls covering new bypass bridge pillars on Gaula river in Haldwani area. Since the bridge was transferred to NHAI, the PWD refrained from repairing the damages. The new bridge is 364.76 meters long and has 9 pillars. It was built in three phases in 2013 costing about Rs. 20 crore. The old bridge costing Rs. 9 crore at the same place was damaged reportedly by excessive riverbed mining in 2008. (30 Aug 2021)

While forest department denied mining activities around the bridge, however NHAI suspected that mining could be reason behind damages. When the bridge structure was damaged 13 years back, PWD had held riverbed mining responsible for it.  (01 Sept. 2021)

Raising same concerns, this report mentioned that the bridge may face collapse any time.  (02 Sept. 2021)

The high floods on Oct 18, 2021 in Gaula river indeed has damaged part of the bridge.  (19 Oct. 2021);

Gaula bridge approach washed away. Amar Ujala

The repeated warnings by media about possible damage to bridge failed to wake up the administration.; (20 Oct 2021)

In 5 years 32 bridges damaged, 27 in dilapidated condition This Aug. 29, 2021 report says nearly 32 bridges including foot bridges have been damaged in past 5 years and 27 are in bad shape for reasons including poor quality construction, lack of timely maintenance and excessive mining activities.   (29 Aug. 2021)

Dr S P Sati, a leading geologist with the HNB Garwahal University, points out that Uttarakhand govt officials keep blaming heavy rainfall and cloud bursts for these disasters. “Our bureaucrats are busy passing the buck. But the fact is that excessive road building has led to muck being dumped in hundreds of our rivers. This in turn has increased their volume and density,” says Dr Sati. “Illegal sand mining worsens the situation because it exposes the pillars of these bridges leaving them more vulnerable. With water flowing at a much greater speed, it has created a situation where several bridges have collapsed,” explains Dr Sati.  (14 Jan 2022)

Himachal Pradesh Illegal mining to be major poll plank in Kangra valley An Executive Engineer of the IPH Department admits that illegal mining is posing a serious threat to several irrigation and drinking water supply schemes in Palampur and Thural divisions. The 400-year-old Kirpal Chand Kuhal, originating from the Neugal, which feeds over 30 panchayats comprising hundreds of villages of Palampur, Bhawarna and Daroh blocks, is in danger because of continuous mining in the catchment areas of the Neugal near the Kandi bridge. Quarrying has also resulted in large-scale deforestation, landslides and flash floods. Also, hundreds of villagers in Jaisinghpur are suffering pulmonary diseases because of the large-scale pollution caused by the stone crushers in the area.  (12 Feb. 2022)

The approach of the bridge hollowed out by illegal mining. Dainik Jagran

Bridge approach hollowed out by illegal mining The bridge over Sukkad Khad on Dhelu-Dohag road in Jogendranagar sub-division has been threatened by illegal mining. The approach to the bridge has become hollow and there are cracks in the pillars and it may collaps in rains. The mining mafia has been extracting sand-gravel and stones around the bridge for a long time. Sand and gravel have also been dug under the pillars of the bridge.  (20 Jan. 2022)  (03 Aug. 2020)

Threat to houses, Kangra locals protest mining Baidi and Khaidara villages near Gaggal airport have decided to take on the mining mafia. Udham Singh of Khaidara said, “Unscrupulous elements are cutting hills for stones, which has posed a grave threat to around 500 houses in the village. On an average, about 50-100 tractor-trailers are being plied under the nose of the authorities. The villagers alleged local contractors of government departments were resorting to illegal mining for using the material in construction activity.

Villagers gather near the illegal mining site at Rajola village. The Trbune

-Earlier acting on the directions of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, the PWD had stopped the payment of contractors for the want of “X” forms. The “X” forms are issued by the Mining Department certifying that the material used was mined legally. The contractors had threatened to stop work, alleging that the stone crushers and other suppliers did not issue such forms. The matter was taken up in the Vidhan Sabha by some MLAs..  (29 Dec. 2021)

Fearless miners have reached the pillars of Yamuna bridge digging sand and gravel. Due to this, the Yamuna bridge built on Dehradun-Paonta Sahib NH 07 has become threatened. Amar Ujala

Danger looms large on Yamuna bridge Yamuna bridge built on Dehradun-Paonta Sahib NH 07 has become threatened. Fearless miners have reached the pillars of Yamuna bridge digging sand and gravel. Three dozen officers of various departments in the state have powers to stop illegal mining, but the mining mafia has become unbridled on the state border.  (14 Dec. 2021)

Bridge near Thural endangered due to illegal mining A bridge on the Palampur-Hamirpur highway near Government Degree College, Thural, is on the verge of collapse. Large-scale illegal and unscientific mining has posed a serious threat to the existence of the bridge. The mining mafia has constructed a road below the bridge to reach the riverbed. As per villagers illegal mining was going on in Neugal everyday. The local authorities were well aware of the situation but no steps had been taken to dismantle the illegal road.

The villagers alleged that the state agencies had surrendered before the mafia. The mafia had dug deep trenches near the pillars of the bridge, which had further weakened its foundations. Local residents said that the river was considered the lifeline of the people as it feeds 100 water supply schemes in Palampur, Bhawarna, Sulah and Thural. The villagers said local roads, bridges, irrigation channels, cremation grounds and village pastures had been damaged because of continuous illegal mining.  (22 July 2021)

Mining poses threat to bridge on Neugal in Thural.  (23 July 2019)

Shahnehar barrage creates flood-like situation in lower Kangra The unabated release of water from Shahnehar barrage at Talwara in Punjab since March 17 has created a flood-like situation in Mand areas of Fatehpur and Indora sub divisions in Kangra district. This artificial  calamity has added to the woes of farmers of Bahadpur, Badala, Halle, Rajgiri Bhatolli, Malal and Bhogrwan mand areas villages. Standing wheat and other rabi crops over 400 hectares have been damaged so far.

Rampant mining in the Beas river is also one of the causes behind flood-like situation in the Mand area. The mining has changed the course of river and partially damaged a bridge at Haler village. Its existence is also under threat due to Shahnehar water release which will continue till April 30.  (21 March 2021)

Illegal mining pose threats to bridge, drinking water schemes Illegal mining is being done with JCB in Shukkar Khad near Ghodi Dhabiri of Hamirpur district. Due to this people of four panchayats are getting affected as the water level is deteriorating in their drinking water schemes. The indiscriminate mining has endangered the foundation of the bridge connecting Bilaspur. At the same time, thousands of kanals of land adjacent to the khad are facing erosion affecting several farmers. Representatives of three panchayats and local people lodged a protest against Shukrar stone crusher installed at Shukrar Khad near Ghodi Dhabiri of Badsar sub-division.  (13 Feb. 2021)

NGT raps chief secy, DGP over illegal mining in Swan The petitioner alleged that unscientific mining by using earth movers, in utter violation of the norms and under the nose of the local dist administration, was causing constant danger to the river & to the channelisation. (4 Aug 2021)

The petitioner also alleged that the trucks-tippers are being overloaded which are causing damage to the roads, causing pollution in the area, inconvenience to people on the roads and accidents are taking untimely lives of the people at large. There is every possibility that it may cause not only loss, damage and destruction to the channelisation work of the Swan river, it may also cause damage to the bridges, leading to loss of public funds already spent for this purpose, besides loss to the water level.  (05 March 2021)

Jammu & Kashmir Illegal mining causing damage to BRO’s Ujh bridge Illegal mining mafia in connivance with some groups from Punjab and insiders in the G&M Department, is carrying out its activities by digging deep river bed near prestigious BRO’s bridge over river Ujh, posing great threat to its existence on Old Samba-Kathua road near Kotpunnu village in Kathua district, bordering Pakistan and Punjab. Constructed by Project SAMPARK and funded by the Ministry of Defence, Rs 50.01 crore was spent on this Segmental Box Girder bridge and it was inaugurated by Defence Minister in April 2019.

In sheer violation of the existing norms and guidelines, the miners are carrying on illegal activities even within 200-250 meters above and below this important 1 km long bridge. Despite protests by the locals, their voice has remained unheard as administration appears to be in deep slumber. Recently some senior officers of BRO used excavators and JCBs to make some repair works & also warned the concerned agencies that this vital bridge, very important from defence point of view, may be exposed to floods if this illegal activity was not checked.

Village Sarpanch, Vinay Sharma said major damage to the rivers on our side, whether it is Ujh or Ravi, is being caused by the mining mafia from Punjab. District Mineral Officer (DMO), Kathua, Devinder Singh claimed that he has shortage of staff. Hardly 9 employees were working in the district office, moreover, for operations he needs coordinated support from District Administration and Police.  (16 Jan. 2021)

Apart from creating drinking water scarcity and causing drying up of irrigation channels thus affecting horticulture in Shopian district, excessive mining also creates threat to a power transmission tower. Much of the stone and sand used for the construction and repairs of roads across south and central Kashmir is extracted from Rambi Ara, Romshi and Vishow known as three sisters which are tributary of Jhelum, while the government “turns a blind eye to this wilful vandalism of environment”.

Miners have plundered the Rambi Ara river, threatening crucial public infrastructure [Jehangir Ali/Al Jazeera]

According to rules, mining is forbidden in riverbeds “below the depth of 3 metres or water level, whichever is lesser”. However, mining by heavy machines has left deep and wide craters in Rambi Ara which threaten a major power transmission tower built on the river.  “The water which fed our orchards now flows beneath large boulders dislodged by the machines. Due to unplanned mining, it is now difficult to reach the main river,” said Abdul Rashid, a farmer in Odura village.  (01 April 2021)

Illegal mining near Betwa bridge posing safety threats. Dainik Bhaskar

Uttar Pradesh Mining near Betwa bridge could pose damage The sand mafia is so fearless that it started mining near the bridge of the Betwa river and the administration has become a mute spectator. According to the locals if it is not stopped the bridge may collapse. The miners have been using heavy machines and created several deep pits close to the bridge which can weaken its pillars base during floods.  The bridge has faced damages in past also and was closed for traffic for a month.  (21 Jan. 2022)

Illegal sand mining is so rampant along Ken river in Bundelkhand of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh states that it even threatens success of central govt’s ambitious Ken Betwa river linking project says this report. (21 Jan 2021) 

Plying of heavy vehicles transporting sand, gravels etc. to a under construction factory has damaged a causeway bridge in Purkaji area of Muzaffarnagar. Cracks have emerged on lower part of the bridge and villagers fear it may fall apart anytime.  (17 Dec. 2021)

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.

The causeway subsiding under pressure of heavy vehicles engaged in illegal sand mining
Sanjay Choudhary/The Telegraph

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..  (26 Dec. 2021)

Mining damaging several bridges As per Amrit Lal Meena, additional chief secretary of the dept, hundreds of big, medium and small bridges were constructed in rivers in the last 15 years. The mining not only diverted the water flow, it also threatened the foundation of bridges. Another senior official of the dept admitted that the foundation of some bridges were damaged by illegal sand mining.  Most complaints were reported in rivers flowing in south Bihar, including Falgu, Panchane, Sakri, Sone, Punpun, Badua, Chanan and Goithwa.

Illegal sand mining has, over the last few years damaged the foundation of the Koilwar railway bridge, which was built by the British in 1900. “Pillars of Koilwar bridge have been in a bad condition due to unabated illegal mining of sand for years. A new road bridge on river Sone near old Koilwar bridge is also under threat,” the official said. Similar reports come from several bridges on different rivers.  (11 March 2021)

Chhattisgarh Sand excavation threatens Turkadih bridge The existence of Turkadih bridge is once again under threat due to the ongoing sand excavation on the Arpa River. If this continues, the bridge may have to be closed again in the coming days. In this regard, the bridge dept of the PWD has written a letter to the collector. Call it the fault of sand mafia or neglect of officials. More than what was spent on the construction of Turkadih bridge, so far the department has been involved in its repair. In this case, FIR has been registered against the contractor as well as the officials. Even after this the situation did not improve. (Dec 2021)

Turkadih bridge was built costing Rs. 3.26 crore and was opened for traffic in January 2008. It developed cracks in January 2014 and remained closed for two years for repairing which alone cost PWD Rs 3.50 crore.  (02 Sept. 2018)

Haryana Mining poses threat to under construction bridge Mining near under construction Nagli Ghat bridge in Gumthala area of Yamuna Nagar endangers the bridge structure. PWD officials issued a letter to the mining dept, warning them to ban mining. The department has been doing same since 2018 but in vain. Non-action on mining agencies puts PWD, Mining Department and Irrigation Department officials in the dock. The bridge is being constructed at a cost of about Rs 104 crore to connect Haryana & UP and construction started in 2018. (9 Nov 2021)

Despite prohibition on mining during monsoon, there is no monitoring being done by the govt agencies. The miners have been carrying excessive mining all along Yamuna course in the state which could result in damages to embankments. In Sonipat, mining company has bifurcated Yamuna’s flows by creating a path in middle portion of river thus fuelling erosion of both river banks. Villagers allege, the act is being done deliberately to expand mining area.  (July 2021)

Punjab Illegal mining endangers bridge in Ropar The unabated illegal mining on the Swan riverbed in Ropar has put a bridge at Algran on the Kalwan-Nangal highway in danger. With the authorities concerned turning a blind eye and the illegal miners digging deep to excavate sand and gravel, the foundation of the bridge’s piers (main support of bridge) lies exposed.

The foundation of Algran bridge has weakened due to mining. Tribune photo

Fearing the bridge may collapse in a year or two if immediate repair wasn’t carried out, PWD officials have written a letter to their higher-ups seeking an assistance of Rs 80 lakh. They also sought ban on the mining of construction material from the riverbed downstream the bridge. In fact, it’s not the first time the district PWD officials have written to the higher-ups.

Sources said 6 letters had been written to the authorities concerned, but nothing concrete had emerged. PWD Executive Engineer Vishal Gupta said though there was no immediate threat to the bridge, timely repair would prevent further damage. Earlier, a bridge on the Sutlej near Agampur in the dist was damaged in a similar manner & its repair is yet to begin. (6 Feb 2021)

Karnataka Illegal sand mining damaging bridge Alleging that illegal sand mining carried out near Makkikadu bridge in Bethu village has been damaging the bridge, the villagers of Napoklu, Parane and Konanjageri held a protest near the bridge. They also urged the district administration to curb illegal sand mining. The new bridge was built at a cost of Rs 20 lakh from the MLA LAD and MP LAD funds, at Makkikadu in Bethu village, which provides connectivity to Napoklu town through Balamuri and Parane.

But, some people have started sand mining in the region and have been continuously extracting sand illegally. As a result, one portion of the bridge is on the verge of collapse. If the sand mining is not stopped, the bridge might collapse one day, said the protestors. They also warned of intensifying the protests if the sand mining is not stopped. Taluk Panchayat former president Tekkade Shobha Mohan said that the police department and the district administration have failed to initiate action against illegal sand miners..  (26 Jan. 2021)

Tamil Nadu Palar flood damages bridges; culverts The incessant rain during the past week in parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where the rivers flow through, and release of surplus water from dams have led to flash floods. Thenpennaiyar reported breaches in check dams in several places, damaging crops and killing people.

The river reached a record high, carrying 1.05 lakh cusecs of water from Palar anicut after heavy rainfall and surplus outflow from water bodies along its course upstream in Andhra Pradesh. The towns and villages along the Palar and its tributaries witnessed such fury of nature after three decades. The only time the river’s flow touched close to one lakh cusecs was in 1991, when Palar anicut released 98,128 cusecs.

Many culverts and bridges across Palar and its tributaries were damaged including the Madanur-Gudiyatham bridge. Exploitation of the river is another major reason for the large-scale damage. Social activist A Manoharan says that indiscriminate sand mining has caused havoc to the system as bridges give way. “The miners are all waiting for the water to recede,” he said.  (25 Nov. 2021)

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.

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)

Mining damages key bridge on TN-AP highway A bridge across Ponnai River in Vellore district has been damaged due to indiscriminate sand mining forcing suspension of movement of vehicles heading to Chittoor and Tirupathi in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh from Chennai and its adjoining places. The 13th pier of the bridge located at Ponnai was found damaged on 16 Dec. 2020 and the government authorities were immediately alerted.

A pier of the Ponnai bridge was damaged due to indiscriminate sand mining and the force of gushing water. (Photo | EPS/S Dinesh)

Indiscriminate sand mining by unscrupulous elements is stated to have caused damage to the bridge. “For the past thirty years, sand mining was done on the river bed. There was no action despite representing the issue to the government authorities. It has gradually damaged the bridge leading to the suspension of traffic now,” rued ‘Palleri’ K Raja, a farmers activist. Force of the flow of water, which has been running for about a month, is also cited as a reason for the damage caused to the pier.  (16 Dec. 2020)

Discussion This compilation of media reports shows that at least two bridges one each in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have collapsed in 2021 largely due to illegal riverbed mining operations. Similarly, the reports reveal at least 23 bridges – 5 each in Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and one each in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have either been damaged majorly or facing damages on account of rampant sand quarrying.

There are reports claiming several more bridges in Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh officially either damaged or facing risk of collapse due to ongoing sand mining operations. The rampant mining is also reportedly found damaging power infrastructures in rivers flowing through Sophian and Kotdwar areas of Kashmir and Uttarakhand respectively while drinking and irrigation channels in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh are similarly at risk.  

We could find two incidents one in Mand of Himachal and Madanur in Tamil Nadu where sudden releases of water from upstream dam projects in Beas and Palar rivers respectively have resulted in damages to riverbank infrastructure including bridges which were already weakened by sand mining activities.

Interestingly, in most of cases the collapse or risk of collapse of these bridges is ‘waiting to happen disaster’ as each and every report suggests, however the responsible agencies seem to remain unconcerned.

There could have been more of such incidents in 2021 about which we could not find reports. The figures of bridges damaged, collapse in this compilation is not exclusive or final but just an indicator of multipronged impacts of unsustainable riverbed excavation across the country.

Overall, illegal riverbed mining menace has become hydra-headed disaster for the country’s rivers and people. The brazen loot of finite natural, common riverbed resources is not only causing massive losses to public exchequer but the damaged infrastructures is leading to additional massive losses, problems and expenses, consuming huge amount of tax payers’ hard earned money often double the amount spent on building these public properties.

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (

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