Dams · Sand Mining

East India: 58 govt officials survived sand mafia attacks since Dec. 2020

(Feature image:- DC Srivastava, SDPO Banka district, Bihar injured in sand mafia attack in Oct. 2019 (Dainik Jagran). The same official has again faced lethal attack by sand mafia in Jan. 2022.)

In 16 months between Dec 2020 and March 2022, states in East India saw sand mafias attacking at least 58 government officials. In addition to this, at least 137 have died and 156 suffered injuries on account of riverbed mining and transportation activities during this period in this zone.

This report tracks human toll of excessive, unlawful riverbed mining excavation and transportation activities in East Indian States of Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh during December 2020 and March 2022. It also documents some sand mining related fatalities in North East states of Assam and Manipur in this period.

This is a summary report of a more detailed file attached here. The first part covering the sand mining violence and accidents in North India during the same period can be seen here. The following parts would cover the West and South Zone.

Bihar

The available media reports show that at least 76 people have lost their lives and 103 have been injured in sand mining related accidents and violence between December 2020 and March 2022 in Bihar. Most of the deaths (31) and injuries (24) have been caused by 19 road accidents – about which we could find information – involving sand transporting trucks in this period. There are reports of several accidents by unidentified trucks killing and injuring scores of people, which have not been added here for lack of complete information.

An armed sand mafia member guarding an illegal mining site at Bihta-Maner border close to Patna. Image: NBT

The sand mafias are ruling the roost attacking police teams. The state has seen about 20 incidents of violent attacks by sand mafia injuring 81 persons of which 48 are policemen including some senior officers. Fearing the mafias, several police officials reportedly became part of mafia-police nexus.

The gang war and infighting among rival sand smugglers has resulted in 4 casualties. In addition to this, 2 persons were killed for opposing mining by sand smugglers while a villager and a sand truck helper died in police action. There have been 5 incidents of drowning in sand pits in which 8 people including a woman and 7 young kids have died.

At least 20 sand workers drowned in the two sand boats capsize incidents that took place in August 2021 and September 2021 in Chhapra. These are among the most tragic incidents in the state. Similarly, about 11 overloaded gravel trucks plunged into Ganga from a cargo ship stationed in Katihar district on the night of March 24, 2022 following which several persons including truck drivers, helpers had to jump off the vehicles. As per reports, several people managed to swim to banks while 10 remained missing of which dead bodies of 2 people was recovered by NDRF.   

The story of Manibhushan Pratap Sengar, an advocate in Patna High Court, fighting against sand mafia is startling. He had pleaded to both central and state governments against removal of his security cover in view of looming threat from sand mafias but in vain.  The January 2022 day light gang war between two rival groups to establish supremacy on sand business from Sone river in Bhogpur resulted in death of 2 members.  

Further, the violent clash between villagers and police team in February 2022 in Gaya led to injuries to scores of people from both sides. The villagers were opposing sand mining survey work citing flood destruction from Morhar river during monsoon and instead of addressing their concerns, the administration suppressed villagers’ voice using police force.

West Bengal

In West Bengal at least 40 people have lost their lives and 32 sustained injuries mainly in 6 road accidents involving sand and stone chips loaded trucks in the reporting period of Dec 2021 and March 2022. 32 of the deaths including those of 13 women and 5 children happened in just 2 road accidents (in Jalpaiguri in January 2021 and in Nadia in November 2021).

Damaged boulder truck and car after accident at Jaldhaka bridge in Jalpaiguri, W Bengal in January 2021. Image Source: India Blooms

The road accident by sand truck in East Medinapur in March 2022 killing one person and injuring 7 others, triggered a violent spell in which agitated mob burnt down a police vehicle and blocked the National Highway. The horrific Birbhum massacre of March 21, 2022 is also being linked to illegal sand mining affairs in W Bengal, however there is no official report on it so far. 

Jharkhand

There have been 14 deaths and 4 injuries due to sand mining activities in Jharkhand in the reporting period. Of these, 9 deaths were caused by 4 road accidents while 3 children were killed in sand mound collapse incident and 1 teenager died after falling into sand mine pit.

In a brutal crime, Rajkumar, a teenage boy of Devbandha village in Godda district was lynched to death in January 2021 by sand mafia for opposing sand mining impacting deceased farmland. The 16 year old elder sibling of handicapped poor parents was preparing for exams and supporting his family through daily wage work in the village.

The aggrieved relatives of Rajkumar. Image Source: Daink Jagran.

In same district 3 children were buried alive after a mound of mud caved in at Koiritola in Sharda village on Feb. 10, 2021 when they were playing on Turi rivulet bank. The extraction of sand was done at the site illegally through JCB machine. Shockingly aggrieved families were given just Rs 3000 and 1.5 quintals of rice as compensation.    

Inter-state (Jharkhand-Uttar Pradesh) sand mafia racket is still active in Garhwa district which witnessed a major sand mining violence episode in May 2017 resulting in 5 deaths. In Dec 2021, the SDM had narrow escape when the sand mafia tried to mow him down under the truck during a raid.

Family members of 3 kids who died in sand mound collapse incident in Garhwa expressing their anger before local officials. Image: Bhola Prasad, The Telegarph

Behind lethal attack on Godda MLA in Oct 2021 and murder of sand dealer in Saraikela in March 2022 involvement of sand mafia is suspected. In Dumka a labourer died and another got injured after hit by debris at illegal stone mining site. Since Nov 2021, the Adivasis in Palamu have been protesting against unlawful stone quarrying in Dhawja hills affecting their farming land and water sources.

Odisha

At least 4 people have been killed and 10 got injured in sand mining related incidents in Odisha between Dec 2020 and March 2022. Out of 5 deaths 4 are result of road accidents involving sand trucks. We could also find out about 7 reports of lethal attack on administration, particularly Tehsildars and Revenue Inspectors by sand mafias while 1 reporter has been grievously injured in stone mafia attack.

Killing of a sand lease holder in Jajpur district in bomb attack by illegal sand smuggler in Mar 2022 and mowing down of 80 goats of which 50 were killed by sand truck in Sep 2021 in Nayagarh district are some of the biggest tragedies underlining illegal sand mining in the state.

Chhattisgarh

Between Dec 2020 and March 2022, there have been 3 deaths, one each due to road accidents, drowning in sand pit and accident at mining site in Chhattisgarh. The state has also seen 3 incidents of attacks by sand mafias injuring 6 people including 4 media persons, a policeman and a mining officer. 

Driver trapped & killed between sand laden tractor-trolley in Bilaspur in March 2022. Image Source: APB News

North East Zone

As per available reports, in Assam 8 people have lost their lives in road accidents involving sand trucks between Dec 2020 and March 2022. The death of a 10 year old by sand truck in Dhubri district in January 2021 triggered violence in the Bilashipara area in which angered locals burnt down three sand laden trucks, a gravel storage site, apart from blocking the road. After which, paramilitary forces were called in to control the tense situation.

Wreckage of bus after a sand truck fell off Jalukbari flyover over it in Guwahati in March 2021. Image Source: G Plus

There have been two bridge collapse incidents due to sand trucks in Manipur in Nov 2020 in which 1 person was killed and 2 went missing. One sand driver has been killed in the state in March 2021 after the truck skidded off the road. We could not find relevant reports on the subject from the other NE states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura. 

Summary

In East zone 137 people have died and 156 have suffered injuries on account of riverbed mining and transportation activities during December 2020 to March 2022. Here too, most of the deaths (85) and injuries (61) have been caused by road accidents involving sand delivery vehicles including trucks, dumpers.

3 kids buried under sand heap, after a sand laden truck toppled over a hut in Sitamarhi Bihar in July 2021. Image: Prabhat Khabar

Most of these deaths and injuries in sand mining related road accidents have taken place in Bihar (31 deaths, 24 injuries) and West Bengal states (40 deaths and 32 injuries). This is followed by mishaps and accidents at sand mining sites killing 35 people mainly mine workers while drowning in sand pits resulted in death of 10 people mostly young, teenage kids.  

In this period, 5 citizens lost their lives and 32 suffered injuries on account of sand mafia attacks. At least 5 reporters and 58 government officials have faced assaults by the mining mafias. Out of total deaths, 116 took place just in two states of Bihar (76) and West Bengal (40). Bihar and W Bengal have also accounted for 135 injuries out of total 156. Also 3 persons were killed in gang wars while 3 were murdered by sand mafias and 1 was killed in police action in Bihar in this period.  

Additionally, about 9 people lost their lives (8 in Assam and 1 in Manipur) on account of road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles during aforesaid period.

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

Note:- The figures compiled here are indicative based on various media reports we have come across for the reporting period so far. There could be several more sand mining violence and death incidents going unreported, being reported as routine accidents without revealing critical information or have remained uncovered by us. The actual death toll and injuries by unabated riverbed mining activities in East and North Eastern states could be higher than numbers mentioned here.

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