Sand Mining

North India: 136 people killed in sand mining violence & accidents in 16 months

(Feature Image: 1 killed, 17 injured after a sand truck toppled in mine pit in Kosi river, Ram Nagar. Source Amar Ujala, 30 Jan. 2021)

Among the many issues affecting Riverbed sand mining is the issue of violence of various types. Stories of such violence keeps coming up from all across the country all the time. However, there is no comprehensive picture emerging about this violence. SANDRP has been trying to compile available information about instances of various types of violence related to river bed mining since last few years.

Tracking the issue, this year we have prepared detailed accounts along with summary reports in a Zone wise format. This first part is a summary report of the detailed account on North Zone states including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and Chandigarh and covers sand mining violence and deaths that took place between December 2020 and March 2022, following after our earlier report that carried the figures for period upto Nov 2020. The successive parts will cover East & North East, West and South Zones. SANDRP’s previous report detailing nearly 193 human deaths between January 2019 and November 2020 on account of illegal sand mining activities can be seen here.

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh has the biggest share among mining related deaths, injuries and violent incidents in North India. Information that we could gather shows that there were deaths of 102 people and injuries to 90 people from December 2020 to March 2022.

Wreckages of sand truck & bus after collision in Barabanki on Oct. 7, 2021. Report FPJ, Image ANI.

With 82 deaths and 77 injuries, the road accidents involving sand transporting trucks, dumpers, tractors have been biggest reason behind the human death toll and fatalities during this period. The death toll includes 14 women and 7 kids who have died in overall 38 such road accidents. At least 23 people lost their lives in just two road accidents of Kaushambi (8) in December 2020 and Barabanki (15) in October 2021.

Most of the accidents have taken place in late night and early morning hours. Illegal mining, overloading, over speeding, rash driving, poor fitness of vehicles, over worked drivers, wrongly parked trucks are among the main reasons behind high numbers of road accidents and resultant causalities. There are several road accidents where vehicles have not been identified or death toll and injuries have not taken place. In rural areas plying of heavy vehicles on narrow, poorly maintained roads has been a contributing factor behind these road accidents. Further, the interior roads damaged by heavy mining vehicles have made them even more accident prone.

There have been about 14 deaths mainly of young, teenage children due to drowning in deep sand (4) and brick kilns (10) mining pits in UP. In one such incident, 2 kids were saved from drowning in sand pits in Ken river. There are 3 drowning deaths (1 in Ken, Banda and 2 in Yamuna in Shamli) where exact reason is not revealed by reports, hence they are excluded here though the accident spots in respective districts near the rivers have been under excessive sand mining. The mine collapse (3) and accidents at mining sites (5) have also killed 8 mine workers.

Violent mob clashes with police, set chowki, vehicles on fire after death of a man carrying illegal sand tractor in Agra . Report TIE, Image PTI.

The reports also reveal at least 6 incidents of violent attacks on government officials injuring 10 people including 9 policemen. There have been several incidents of mob turning violent and damaging public & private properties after sand trucks mowing down common people. In one such incident in January 2021 in Agra, even the police team was targeted and several vehicles were burnt down apart from police check post following accidental death of a sand tractor driver during police action. Clamping down Nishad community boatmen in Prayagraj in February 2021 by police in which about 17 boats were damaged for mining activities also led to violent protest and political mobilization against administrative excesses.  

The illegal mining in Ken river in Banda has severely affected farmers and villagers. Local reporter and activist Ashish Sagar Dixit has been facing oppression by state administration for exposing illegal sand mining there as it has some high profile politicians involved. Affected by brazen mining activities, a farmer even pleaded intervention from Defence Minister and a woman Usha Nishad tried to self-immolate. However the state machinery has been insensitive and unresponsive.

Labourers have been facing exploitation and deaths in stone mining activities in Chitrakoot, which are not counted in this report. There have been several incidents in which overloaded sand, gravel trucks stuck in railway lines thus disrupting train services and posing big accident threats. One such incident has also happened during the President’s visit in the state in June 2021.

Haryana

The available information shows that at least 20 people have been killed (14 in sand, 06 in stone mining) and 48 injured in mining related incidents in the Haryana between Dec 2020 and March 2022. Most causalities occurred in road accidents in which 11 people including 3 women lost their lives and 42 others were injured followed by 3 drowning deaths in sand pits in Yamuna river.

Remaining 6 deaths including 5 mine workers and 1 young citizen have taken place in illegal stone quarries in Bhiwani and Mahendragarh districts, all in January 2022. We could come across information about four violent attacks by sand mafia on govt officials injuring 6 of them.

The mangled remains of a truck after it crashed into a tree near Amadalpur village in Yamunanagar. Tribune photo.

The March 2022 tragic accident in Yamuna Nagar in which one RTA official and a truck driver were burnt to death exposes both large scale illegal mining from Yamuna river and negligence of concerned departments in dealing with the issue.

There have been many road accidents where unidentified trucks, dumpers have rammed into public and private vehicles killing innocent people.  As per a report, excessive mining activities have created deep pits along 75 km long stretch of Yamuna flowing through 123 villages in the district in which about 100 drowning deaths have taken place in past five years. 

Given mining restrictions in neighbouring Punjab and Rajasthan states and unabated construction activities in NCR region including Delhi & Chandigarh; Haryana has become hotspot for supply of construction material for which Aravali hills and Yamuna river are extensively, unsustainably and illegally mined.

Uttarakhand

In Uttarakhand 21 people have lost their lives while 36 have suffered injuries in riverbed minerals (RBM) mining related incidents in the reporting period. In this period the state has seen 2 incidents of violent attacks on villagers injuring about 7 persons and 1 incident of attack on media persons (4 attacked, 2 beaten up) for opposing and exposing unlawful RBM mining. 

Of the total, 9 deaths and 9 injuries are due to road accidents involving mining vehicles killing 2 students, 2 daily wagers and 5 others. In 2 incidents vehicles have not been identified. However, the description and area of accidents suggest them to be involved in RBM transportation.

Dead body of child drown in sand pit in Sukhro river, Kotdwar being recovered by police. Image, Report by Amar Ujala.

The rest 10 deaths and 18 injuries are result of accidents at mining sites which includes 3 deaths: 1 death, 17 injuries in Kosi, Ramnagar, 2 deaths, 1 injury in Gaula, Haldwani. 6 deaths were due to drowning in mining pits (3 deaths in Gaula, Haldwani including 2 young siblings, 1 adult person and 1 child’s death in Sukhro, Kotdwar), 3 deaths of sand mining workers due to sudden discharge from Sarda barrage washing away a dozen mine workers.

Overall 6 mine workers including a woman have died and 18 suffered injuries on account of accidents at mining sites in Uttarakhand in this period. The saints of Matri Sadan continued their agitation demanding a halt in illegal mining in Ganga in Haridwar and hydro power projects on the river.

The excessive mining in Gaula river in Haldwani and Khoh, Sukhro, Malan rivers (under river training policy) have been proving disasterous for infrastructural projects and human lives.  

The mine workers mostly migrants are subjected to overwork in risky conditions but are underpaid while state earns huge revenues. Moreover, in case of deaths and injuries in mine accidents, they are left in miserable conditions. The incident of March 14, 2021 is worth mentioning in which a 55 year old woman mine workers died and her 14 year old granddaughter got injured after collapse of mineral mound in Gaula river, Haldwani. Though there is a welfare society, however the aggrieved were not given adequate financial aid.

Punjab

Punjab government’s 2018 sand policy has been sub-judice disabling auctioning of new mining leases and there are not more than 20 legally approved mining sites functioning in the state. However, there is no let up in illegal sand mining incidents in the state. In the state assembly elections in Feb 2022, illegal mining became focal point for media & political parties.

Illegal mining has left 50-foot-deep craters in the Sutej near Anandpur Sahib. Tribune photo

Probably for these reasons, the state has seen less reporting of sand mining related deaths, accidents, attacks and violence. As per the available reports, there has been death of 2 sand truck drivers and injury of 1 person in the reporting period. We could also find 2 reports of violent attacks on government officials, police team and villagers injuring 3 policemen.

Himachal Pradesh

In Himachal Pradesh 1 person has died while 3 persons including 2 forest staff have been injured in minor mineral related incidents in 2021. The death of miner took place in Mandi district in August 2021 when the part of a hill being quarried for sand experienced landslide. There have been few reports on tipper causing accidents in the state without revealing adequate information hence has not been compiled here.

J&K, Chandigarh, Delhi

As a result of media outlets facing state imposed restrictions, there is noticeable reduction in reports covering mining issues in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Regarding mining violence and casualties, we came across two media revealing deaths of 2 persons in the Union Territory of J&K in 2021. In this period one civilian lost his life due to drowning in deep mining pit while the a tipper driver died in an accident.

Image of car crushed under gravel truck killing a couple & injuring minor girl in Delhi in December 2021. Report & image TIE.

In Chandigarh, a woman and her daughter were killed by speeding sand mining truck in December 2020. For Delhi, we could find 2 reports of road accidents involving sand, gravel trucks killing 3 civilians including a couple and injuring 1 minor girl.

Summary

The available reports show that at least 136 people have lost their lives and 181 suffered injuries due to riverbed mining and transportation activities in North Indian states over past 16 months from December 2020 till March 2022. Most of the deaths (110) and injuries (130) have been due to road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles (trucks, dumpers, tractors). This is followed by 24 deaths mostly young and teenage children in sand and brick kilns pits. In the same period mishaps (mine collapse, accidents) at mining sites have killed 19 and injured 19.

2 including a retired army man mowed down by sand truck in Kamtaganj Market, Sultanpur in June 2020. Image & Report Dainik Jagran.

140 of total deaths have occurred in just three states of Uttar Pradesh (102), Haryana (20) and Uttarakhand (21). While 33 people including citizens (10), reporters, activists (02), and government officials (21) have faced attacks or suffered injuries in sand mafia assaults, fortunately there have been no fatality due to this.

The death and injury figures are on the basis of reports we could find. There are several reports of fatal road accidents by trucks and dumpers in sand mining affected areas without disclosing materials they were transporting and the death toll of such reports are not included here. Similarly there is hardly any follow up reports on grievously injured persons by sand vehicles. If the subject is monitored properly and examined thoroughly the actual numbers are bound to go up.

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

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