Sand Mining

Govts, Judiciary fail as Sand mining ravaging Chambal Sanctuary

(Feature image Mechanized and illegal mining in Chambal river, Morena. Image Source: MP Breaking News)

Large scale illegal sand mining activities are going on in National Chambal River Sanctuary area falling under Morena district of Madhya Pradesh and Dholpur district of Rajasthan despite a ban by Supreme Court, as highlighted by several reports in recent months.

The MP Breaking News report dated Dec. 31, 2021 details how illegal sand mining in Chambal river near Rajghat bridge in Morena side has been unabated contrasting government’s claims of strict actions against sand mafias in the state. Thousands of tractors and heavy machines like JCBs and hydras were involved in the act. It also reveals that the officials from district administration, forest and police departments were fully aware of the situation but did nothing to stop it.

Video clip showing large scale illegal mining in Chambal river, Morena. Source: MP Breaking News 31 Dec. 2021

“A task force of more than 200 personnel have been formed to check on the illegal sand mining in Chambal river in the district, however most of them have been engaged in other activities which shows the connivance of forest and mining department officials in facilitating illegal sand mining in the river” reads the report.

It further mentions that thousands of tractors filled with illegal mined sand were allowed to pass through Allabelly police check post near Rajghat on daily basis. About 70 percent of the sand was being supplied to Dholpur and the remaining in Morena and Gwalior.  

The sand mafia has created several stockyards of illegally mined sand on ravine land along Chambal river in Bhupura and Nagra areas of Morena reports Nai Dunia, on Jan. 07, 2022. Throughout the day, thousands of tractors were involved in transporting the sand first from Chambal to these stocks and then supplying it to local areas and Porsa town without being stopped at Nagra police station and Rajoudha check post.

Creation of such illegal stock was annual affair before monsoon by the sand mafia The report quoted Deepankar, ranger, forest department Porsa stating that they were facing difficulties in checking illegal mining for being short staffed and the mafia being equipped with fire arms.

Mechanized, illegal sand mining in Chambal river sanctuary. Image:- Patrika, Feb. 2022

The rampant illegal sand mining near Rajghat in Chambal Gharial Sanctuary, covered in a pictorial report by Rajasthan Patrika of Feb 1, 2022 reiterates use of thousands of tractors, heavy machinery and inefficiency of administration in controlling the sand mafias. The mining has been damaging Chambal river ecology. The mafia has been flourishing fearlessly even with after change in government.

A video report by IBC24 on Feb. 7, 2022 shows illegal sand mining near Rajghat, Morena right under the bridge. It shows endless trail of tractor plying on riverbed and heavy machines excavating sand from flowing course of river. 

Conservationist Sahil Zutshi highlights the grim situation in The Hindu, March 25, 2022 titled An ecocide is happening under the noses of police and forest authorities in Chambal describing how the pristine sand banks serving as safe refuse to critically endangered gharial, Indian skimmer, roofed turtle and a host of other threatened species are being destroyed by convoys of tractor-trolleys, diggers and excavators at breakneck speed in recent months despite the presence of forest department personnel of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh at Chambal Bridge, and police checkpoints on both sides of the State border.

The article further reads, “During visits in January 2022, Indian skimmers, threatened river terns, mugger crocodiles and the red-crowned roofed turtles, of which less than 400 females are thought to remain in the wild, were observed in the immediate vicinity (within a 100-metre radius) of multiple sandbanks being mined. According to reports, rampant sand mining within NCS is forcing gharials to migrate to Kuno and Parbati rivers, tributaries of the Chambal, in search of safer egg-laying habitats.”

Heedless: Illegal sand mining at Chambal Bridge, Dholpur. Image:- Sahil Zutshi/The Hindu, March 2022

According to Shahil Zutsi, in absence of effective monitoring the true scale of illegal sand mining remains unknown. “Conservative estimates from an on-ground investigation in January 2022 suggested that some 40,000 cubic feet of river sand was being extracted from the Chambal Bridge (Rajghat) site alone on a typical morning. If unlawful mining is brazenly progressing here, less accessible sites in the interior, away from the public gaze, are likely to be witnessing more devastation.”

The sandy banks of Chambal in Morena have been severely deformed by illegal sand mining activities adversely affecting the habitats of aquatic animals reveals a report in Nai Dunia, April 28, 2022.

Mechanized, illegal mining destroying sandy banks of Chambal near Rajghat, Morena which provide nesting ground, habitats to gharial, turtle species. Dainik Bhaskar, 30 April 2022.

The river banks along Rajghat used to function as egg laying ground for gharial, turtle in recent past but now the river bank has been deformed by heavy machines and dotted with water filled pits. Around 1500 tractors have been passing through the river banks. The sand mafia have created several roads to access river banks. The situation is more or less same at 25 other ghats including Barwasin, Bhanpur, Atarghat, Raughat, Nagra, Usaid. As a result the aquatic animals have migrated from all these locations, states the report.

It also mentions that the Joint Team comprising of officials from Forest, Police, Revenue and Mining Departments have taken no action on illegal sand mining in past one year after its formation. The sand is being mined in large scale surpassing consumption demand in Morena, Gwalior and Dholpur. Mafia have created more than 700 sand dumps in the ravines areas of Jaitpur, Bhanpur, Piprai, Masoodpur, Gospur, Janakpur, Kenthari, Torkhera villages around Rajghat which would be sold during monsoon months.

The Dainik Bhaskar report of April 30, 2022 reported destruction of gharial and Batagur turtle eggs and habitats along river bank by mechanized mining near Rajghat bridge on Morena side. Both the species are endangered and endemic to Chambal river.

22 Feb. 2022 satellite images by Raj Bhagat reveal destructive sand mining activities in close proximity to Rajghat bridge.

The latest satellite imageries accessed and shared by Raj Bhagat, Earth Observer at World Resource Institute has found that the excessive sand mining activities have been happening in close proximity to the Rajghat bridge posing potential threat to the structure.

The Chambal river has been witnessing illegal sand mining in adjoining Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh and Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh as reported in Navbharat Times report of Jan. 27, 2022 and Patrika report of May 3, 2022.

Not only the respective state governments, union environment ministry but the judiciary seems to have been largely indifferent towards ongoing destruction of Chambal river sanctuary by sand mafia.

A petition raising the important issue is pending before the High Court, Madhya Pradesh. The Madhya Pradesh government has not responded to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) direction seeking Action Taken Report (ATR) into the matter while hearing plea filed by Govind Singh, a Congress MLA as reported in Free Press Journal, Feb. 10, 2022.

The plea had mentioned destruction of gharial, turtle eggs and habitats by illegal and mechanized sand mining near Rajghat area and was to be heard on March 11, 2022. 

According to April 9, 2022 report, NGT has constituted an 8-member expert committee headed by Director General of Forests and Special Secretary to undertake a visit and prepare an action plan on the media reports related to the illegal mining near Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan. The area is close to the National Chambal Sanctuary. The tribunal has also sought for a factual and ATR to be submitted within 2 months by the committee comprising Director, National Chambal Sanctuary, Secretaries of Mining and State Pollution Control Board members from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Video clip showing mechanized, illegal mining destroying sandy banks of Chambal near Rajghat, Morena which provide nesting ground, habitats to gharial, turtle species. Dainik Bhaskar, 30 April 2022.

Summing up The reports evidently reveal the proliferation of sand mafia and unabated destructive sand mining activities in and around National Chambal River Sanctuary area particularly near Rajghat bridge on Morena side of Madhya Pradesh state despite a ban by Supreme Court of India.

The mechanized, excessive mining along the banks and through flowing course of river have been impacting the endangered gharial, turtle and several other aquatic, riparian species in worst possible manner apart from posing safety threat to Rajghat bridge structure.

Is it due to resource constraints or is it due to political support to sand mafia, that the government machinery has largely been inactive? The revenue, mining, police and forest departments have refrained from taking departmental actions while the joint task force has been totally ineffective.

Mechanized and illegal mining in Chambal river, Morena. Image Source: MP Breaking News

The state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have remained indifferent towards ecological destruction of river Chambal by the rampant illegal sand mining operations. The judiciary seems reluctant and delaying timely action and forming meaningless committees.

Meanwhile the Chambal, celebrated among few remaining pristine rivers in the country and its aquatic eco-system in legally protected habitat is destined to suffer irreversibly from cascading effect of unjustifiable sand mining.

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

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