Sand Mining

2022: Riverbed Mining Destroying Indian River Eco-system & Freshwater Species

(Feature image sources: Clock wise (1) Mahseer fish/ Mongabay India, April 2022. (2) Gharials in Chambal/India Today, July 2022. (3) Gangetic dolphin/ECO NE. (4) Smooth-coated Otters in Cauvery/Round Glass, Jan. 2023.)

Indiscriminate mining of riverbeds for sand, gravel, pebbles have been rampant across the country increasingly damaging India’s rivers. The incidents of illegal sand mining, mafias, administrative actions & inactions, govt policies and court cases are routinely covered by the media. However the irreversible impacts of destructive riverbed mining operations on fresh water species and river eco-system are little understood, least explored, rarely covered by media and fails to attract the required attention from govts, judiciary and public at large. 

To some extent, we have been monitoring and highlighting the loop holes in sand mining governance. As part of our annual overview, in 2022 we have complied this separate report underlining the adverse impacts of riverbed mining on rivers and on aquatic life, fresh water species including endangered gharials, dolphins, turtles, fish etc.

In subsequent parts of yearend overviews, we would cover impact of riverbed mining on infrastructures, people’s agitations against the destructive mining operations, steps being taken by various state governments on riverbed mining, judicial interventions to check unsustainable, illegal mining activities in 2022. In final part, we would track the human death toll and violent incidents involving riverbed mining operations in India in 2022.

CHAMBAL Madhya Pradesh Sand mining ravaging Chambal Sanctuary The reports evidently reveal the proliferation of unabated destructive sand mining activities in and around National Chambal River Sanctuary area particularly near Rajghat bridge on Morena side of Madhya Pradesh despite a ban by Supreme Court. 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 the worst possible manner apart from posing safety threat to Rajghat bridge structure. https://sandrp.in/2022/05/08/govts-judiciary-fail-as-sand-mining-ravaging-chambal-sanctuary/  (8 May 2022)

Sand mining will reduce ecological viability of the Chambal river, warn ecologists. India Today, July 2022.

Gharial, Turtle eggs broken by sand mafia Illegal sand mining adjacent to Dholpur border under Morena by mafia with big JCB and Hydra machines have damaged the eggs of Batagur turtles and gharials laid along the sandy banks of Chambal. Both these animals come under the category of protected species. More than 1500 vehicles are involved in indiscriminate sand   mining and transportation at the ghat. Big JCB machines are engaged in digging day and night and sand is being taken to Morena, Dholpur and Gwalior by tractor trolleys. https://www.bhaskar.com/local/mp/gwalior/morena/news/the-sand-mafia-broke-their-eggs-watching-the-forest-and-district-administration-became-mute-129734288.html (29 Apr 2022)

Protecting red-crowned roofed turtle The Batagur kachuga or the red-crowned roofed turtle is found in India, Nepal & Bangladesh. In India, the Chambal sanctuary is among its last viable habitats. But a number of factors make the Chambal sanctuary vulnerable not only for this species but for all freshwater turtles. For one, illegal sand mining is a threat to these animals that use the sandy riverbank for basking as well as nesting. Other problems include pumping out water from the Chambal river for agriculture in lean seasons and overfishing. Additionally, the turtles have to compete for space on the sandbanks with vine crops such as watermelons, cucumbers and musk melons. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/05/protecting-the-critical-chambal-landscape-one-of-last-viable-habitats-for-red-crowned-roofed-turtle/  (31 May 2022)

Legalising sand mining in Chambal sanctuary would be major disaster In June 2022, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) found itself considering a proposal by the Madhya Pradesh govt to denotify almost 300 ha of Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary for legal sand mining. The MP govt says the move would reduce wasteful expenditure on monitoring illegal sand mining, while simultaneously increasing state revenue, helping meet local livelihoods’ needs, & protecting the environment. Proposal for a major disaster. https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/environment/conservation-and-development/profits-protection-and-people-is-legalising-sand-mining-in-mps-chambal-sanctuary-worth-it/ (22 Jul 2022)

Why sand mining in Chambal is not right While the area opened for sand mining is around half a per cent of NCWS’s total size, the decision could, environmentalists fear, effectively legalise illegal sand mining. In addition, various lobbies may use the NBWL order as a precedent to pressure central and state govts to open up other protected areas for extractive industries. The NBWL order also goes against the Gwalior bench of the MP high court ruling that banned sand mining in 2006 for safeguarding gharials, Indian skimmers, and other animal species that make the sanctuary their home. https://www.hindustantimes.com/editorials/why-sand-mining-in-chambal-is-not-right-101662044493712.html (1 Sep 2022)

Legalising illegal mining threatens Chambal Species The future of the gharial, red-crowned roofed turtle, Indian Skimmer and several other species of the Chambal River is threatened by the Madhya Pradesh government’s plan to legalise sand mining on the banks, a crucial part of their habitat. Riverside observers report an increase in illegal sand mining at the river over five years. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, this activity greatly accelerated as people returned to the area and figured out ways to make money. Everyone with a tractor and trolley at the ready, began excavating sand from the Chambal for cash in hand. A SANDRP report notes large-scale illegal sand mining throughout the NCS across shorelines in MP, Rajasthan & UP.  https://sanctuarynaturefoundation.org/article/sand-mining-legalisation-threatens-chambal-species (5 Jan 2023) Sand mining will reduce ecological viability of the Chambal river, warn ecologists. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20220725-chambal-sanctuary-shifting-sands-1975766-2022-07-14  (25 July 2022)

Kunwari, Besali, Jhilmil rivers of Chambal basin in Bhind district are succumbing to illegal mining and encroachments. https://www.patrika.com/bhind-news/existence-of-three-rivers-of-chambal-is-in-danger-7513812/  (06 May 2022)

NARMADA Madhya Pradesh Sand mining a threat to the mahseer, aquatic species Sand mining has adversely impacted the ecology of the Narmada river, including threats to fish and other aquatic species. Despite interventions from the high court and the NGT, Bhopal, illegal sand mining continues in places like Dhar and Badwani. This in turn impacts livelihoods of fishers. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/04/sand-mining-a-threat-to-the-mahseer-and-other-aquatic-species-in-the-narmada/  (29 April 2022)

Illegal sand mining is devastating Narmada ecosystem The erosion has not only adversely impacted the flora and fauna, but also the livelihoods of fishers and also that of riverbed cultivators. It also quotes SANDRP: “A study conducted in collaboration with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People revealed that sand mining should also be listed as a major factor” threatening the river. https://scroll.in/article/1023093/illegal-sand-mining-is-devastating-the-ecosystem-around-narmada-in-madhya-pradesh  (05 May 2022)

Sand mining killing rivers in Katni The unabated illegal mining activities have led to drying up of Halfal, Umarad, Katni and Mahanadi rivers in Katni district. The villagers believe that when there was no arbitrary sand mining from the rivers of the area, the water of the rivers did not dry up in summer, but due to mining, the flow of the rivers has stopped. According to the villagers, if this condition continues then there could be a huge water crisis. https://www.patrika.com/katni-news/illegal-mining-in-rivers-7510360/ (4 May 2022)

Belkund, the lifeline of Dhimarkheda area, Katni has stopped flowing due to illegal sand mining. Other major rivers in the district are also being assaulted by unabated sand mining. Sand from Belkun river is being mined by Vishtha Sales Pvt Ltd violating norms but the administration has taken no action despite adverse impact and complaints by villagers. Similarly, villagers kept complaining about illegal mining in Mahanadi but in vain. As a result, the drinking water crisis is deepening in many rural areas which is also affecting domestic as well as wild animals. Villagers allege the mining has changed the river eco-system and it has never dried up in past. https://www.naidunia.com/madhya-pradesh/katni-belkund-river-dried-up-due-to-illegal-sand-mining-7463623  (17 April 2022)

YAMUNA Haryana Yamuna is dying due to sand mining Varsha Singh Extraction of sand from the Yamuna’s bed is leading to its ‘slow death’ of river in Yamuna Nagar, as the locals described it. “Once, we used to see Sarus cranes, Ruddy Shelduck, flamingos, cormorants & migratory birds in thousands. Fish like Mahseer, Lalpari (Japanese Threadfin Bream), Rohu (Carp), Golden Fish, Sua, Sevda, Launchee and Kiran were also found in large numbers.

We have caught catches up to 70 kilograms in weight. But all that began to disappear when sand extraction started. The noise of the machines prevented birds from visiting. Nocturnal animals too went away. Our Yamuna is now at the gates of death,” Kiranpal Rana, said. There was a dead fish lying on the bank even as Rana spoke. “This is what is happening to those creatures that are left. Their eggs, young and seed as well as young plants, everything is trampled under the wheels of vehicles that collect sand,” he said.

Excessive, mechanized govt sponsored riverbed mining has hollowed out riverbed minerals rom Somb and Yamuna in Yamuna Nagar district, Haryana resulting in riverbank erosion, groundwater depletion, decline in migratory water birds, aquatic life in the rivers. Bhim Singh Rawat/ SANDRP Nov. 2022.

Syed Ainul Hussain, scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, who is part of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, told this reporter: The excessive extraction of sand from the river disturbs the natural balance. Aquatic plants and microorganisms get affected. The food chains in the riverine system are affected. Consequently, many animals lose their food supply. This causes reduction in numbers of fauna and even local extinction.

The effect of the extraction of sand on the Yamuna and its biodiversity has not been the subject of any scientific research till now. SR Tagore, who has researched the effect of sand mining on the biodiversity of the Chambal river, said: “Our study done at Etawah, where the Chambal meets the Yamuna, has showed that sand mining threatens the biodiversity of a river system. We found that sand mining caused human intrusion into the basking sites, nesting patterns and egg laying of gharials and freshwater turles, causing them to leave the area.”

Manoj Mishra, convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, said the scientific studies about the impact of sand mining on the biodiversity of the Ganga, Chambal and Yamuna should be done. It is not just the wild denizens of the Yamuna that are suffering. The humans living along its banks are going through a similar fate. The wanton extraction of sand from the Yamuna has led to a decline in groundwater levels. The decline in water levels of the river has caused fisher communities to become labourers. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/mining/a-river-ruined-our-yamuna-is-dying-due-to-sand-mining-say-locals-in-haryana-84758 (6 Sep 2022)

Rampant Illegal Mining Costs Govt Rs 5,000 Cr Loss Annually Besides Human Lives & Crops. https://www.outlookindia.com/national/rampant-illegal-mining-costs-haryana-rs-5-000-cr-loss-annually-besides-human-lives-and-crops-news-221100  (05 Sept. 2022)

Uttar Pradesh Mining contract a threat as river course changed The walls of more than 12 houses at Mandawar village located on the banks of Yamuna in Kairana are full of “for sale” placards hanging outside. Villagers say their farmlands have submerged in water causing extensive damage to the crops. The reason, according to them, is a new sand mining contract in the region. They say contractors have deployed huge machines to extract sand and this has caused the river to change its course towards their village.

According to villagers, at least 30 bigha of fertile land has been affected. Their livelihood is at risk as the eroding river may swallow their farmland. The plea has reached senior authorities and they say a joint committee has been formed to look into the matter. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/meerut/mining-contract-a-threat-as-river-course-changed-say-yamuna-bank-farmers/articleshow/89575910.cms  (15 Feb. 2022)

With monsoon over, the sand mafias are let loose to rob Yamuna of flows, minerals, eco-system & destroy the livelihoods of fishers, floodplain farmers. This in-stream, mechanized river mining prohibited by NGT and MoEF happened today in morning hours at Mandawar area of Kairana in Shamli district where such violations have become a norm as seen in previous years also. https://fb.watch/gDpPwabJTr/ (6 Nov 2022) Local media clips and video reports for 15-16 Nov. 2022 revealing illegal, mechanized mining of sand continues at Mandawar area in Kairana block of Shamli district where miners have been diverting flows of Yamuna and creating cross sectional embankments in clear violations of norms. Sadly, this has become annual affair during lean season, adversely affecting floodplain farmers & aquatic life in the river. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74O8paxRet8 (15 Nov 2022)

Miners divert Yamuna Illegal mining is happening non-stop in Yamuna river at Umraval ghats under Chayal tehsil area, Kaushambi district. Ignoring NGT rules, the mafia have been extracting sand from the middle of the river and even has changed the river course. The act has been causing revenue loss, damaging the river and impacting aquatic eco-system adversely. https://m.jagran.com/uttar-pradesh/kaushambi-ngt-rules-in-umarwal-mining-is-happening-in-the-rivers-stream-mode-22348258.html (2 Jan 2022)

Ken’s flow stopped by miners  NGT rules are being openly flouted in Khaptihkala sand mine of Palani area in Banda district. The contractors have stopped the water flow of the Ken river by constructing a temporary bund and are indulging in instream mining with machines and overloaded trucks. A district panchayat member has complained about the matter to the higher authorities. Presently there are 13 mines operating in the district. The District Administration and the Mineral Department chose to remain silent on these violations for a whole month.https://www.jagran.com/uttar-pradesh/banda-maurang-businessman-stopped-the-flow-of-ken-river-built-a-bridge-22569383.html   (24 March 2022) Several videos by a villager show unsustainable, mechanized sand mining activities happening in Marouli village under Matondh police station in Banda. The miners have political connection. Fearing attacks local media stay away from the issues. The administration have also done nothing to stop it. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php  ; https://www.ashishsagarptb.com/banda/details/1355/-  Apart from Ken, the Dhasan river is also bearing burnt of illegal sand mining. Sand mafias have installed suction pumps & mining sand from Dhasan riverbed in Chhatarpur dist. https://www.patrika.com/chhatarpur-news/lifters-put-in-ken-and-dhasan-river-removing-sand-from-under-water-7518448/ (6 May 2022)

Betwa turned dry in April The existence of the Betwa river is now in danger due to the mining of sand day and night by banned machines like suction pumps and poclain in Hamirpur dist. Due to large scale mining the Betwa river has turned dry in April. In past, people used to cross the Betwa river by boat during summers, but now people cross the river on foot. The operation of lift canal, which was installed several decades ago near Diggi Ramedi of Hamirpur city, has stopped while another lift irrigation pump near Sahjana village has also been affected due to low water. https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/state/uttar-pradesh/others/betwa-river-dried-up-in-baisakh-due-to-illegal-mining-in-hamirpur/articleshow/91333578.cms (5 May 2022) The existence of Chandrawal river is in danger due to the indiscriminate mining going on in Betwa & Ken rivers for the last several months. The worst effect of mining in Moudaha tehsil area in Hamirpur district is on the Virma river along with Chandrawal. https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/state/uttar-pradesh/others/up-as-soon-as-the-summer-started-in-hamirpur-the-chandrawal-river-turned-into-a-drain/articleshow/90401488.cms  (23 March 2022)

GANGA Uttarakhand Gaula being hollowed out for concrete The plight of a small Himalayan river is echoed all over, as communities lose lives and property to the ‘unscientific and unsustainable’ mining of riverbeds.

Gopal Datt Sharma’s house on the brink of collapse into the Gaula River. Throughout the Himalayan foothills, communities have lost their homes to flooding, which is being exacerbated by riverbed mining. (Image: Monika Mondal / The Third Pole, Feb. 2022)

What is the replenishment rate of the Gaula, one the most mined rivers in Uttarakhand? There is no study in the public domain. Asked about this, Bharti of the UFDC responds: “There is no need to put such studies in the public domain.” https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/livelihoods/riverbed-northern-india-being-hollowed-mining-concrete/   (25 Feb. 2022)

‘Illegal mining damaging riverbed in Doon’ The persistent problem of illegal mining in Doon, despite several complaints to concerned authorities, continues to destroy the ecology of the areas close to the rivers, say residents. The mining is adversely affecting the Sahastradhara and Baldi riverbeds near the Maldevta area. “Trucks and JCBs moving around at night here is a common sight. The effects of incessant mining are starting to show. Till March, the river had water, but now it’s completely dry. This place is very popular with locals and tourists alike, wherein people would usually sit around the river bank but now it’s just sand, rocks and dust. With the monsoon approaching, the mining will mean even more damage in the area when the water level will go up but the river bank will be unable to hold it,” said a local eatery owner. Local activists said that a road in the area was washed off due to a damaged riverbed in 2021.

Doon-based environmentalist Reenu Paul said govt policies were misused to carry out illegal work. “Illegal sand mining in the area is disturbing the ecology there. The new dredging policies in the name of river draining are causing more harm than benefit and sand mining is happening under the cover of dredging. There are petitions in court challenging the new policies but a check has to be in place to ensure that mining doesn’t happen,” she said. The experts said that if the rivers are being stripped of riverbed material then nothing will hold the water when the flow of water increases during monsoon. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/illegal-mining-damaging-riverbed-in-doon/articleshow/92069033.cms  (8 June 2022)

Uttar Pradesh Mining mafia construct illegal path across Ganga in Unnao Adding to the large-scale illegal mining incidents, the miners have now built a road cutting the Ganga at Sumerpur Ghat in the Unnao district. The road has divided the stream of the Ganga into two parts. Trucks laden with sand and mud are being sent out at night on the newly built road. However, the administration was not informed about the construction of the road. Due to stagnant water, a huge amount of moss has also accumulated on either side of the path. According to the information, mining operations in the area have been carried out over the last several days. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/uttar-pradesh-mining-mafia-construct-illegal-path-across-ganga-at-sumerpur-ghat-1936629-2022-04-12  (12 April 2022)

The illegal sand mining from Ganga continues unabated near Brajghat in Garhmukteshwar area of Hapur dist. The brazen mining operations are taking a toll on Ganga river eco-system. The miners are so powerful that they get the information of raid in advance & desert the location to resume after some time. https://www.bhaskar.com/local/uttar-pradesh/hapud/garhmukteshwar/news/people-of-neighboring-district-amroha-are-doing-mining-from-the-island-of-ganges-administration-is-not-taking-care-130576985.html (18 Nov 2022)

Bihar Illegal sand mining devastates rivers Dinesh Kumar Mishra, a river expert in Bihar and convener of NGO Barh Mukti Abhiyan, says that mindless sand mining, largely the illegal activity, is destroying the Sone and other rivers. “It is scientifically established that a riverbed is like a sponge and contains water even during the dry summer. If you remove sand from the river, you are digging your own grave.”

Ranjeev, a river activist, says unsustainable sand mining has already pushed some rivers to the verge of drying up forever. “Mechanised digging of riverbeds in the Sone, Ganga and other rivers has created ditches and big pits. It is affecting the rivers’ natural flow and threatening aquatic habitats.” https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/bihar-illegal-sand-mining-devastates-rivers/  (18 Aug. 2022) The sand laden trucks creating upto 14 km long jam on Patna to Aara-Chhapra road, usual scene on 4-lane highway. https://www.bhaskar.com/local/bihar/patna/news/left-only-one-way-to-transport-sand-result-14-km-forelane-in-possession-of-trucks-since-5-years-130635001.html  (02 Dec. 2022) https://www.bhaskar.com/local/bihar/patna/ara/news/tragedy-due-to-jam-of-sand-vehicles-on-ara-chhapra-four-lane-129755723.html  (July 2022)

Jharkhand Falgu facing illegal sand mining threats Rampant illegal sand mining activities are exploiting the Niranjana river (Phalgu) to such an extent that its very existence is in danger. Falgu river passes through Hunterganj in Chatra district, where illegal sand mining is going on indiscriminately from about 100 ghats. Hundreds of tractors are extracting sand daily from the river near Jori village of the block. Despite the NGT rules, illegal extraction of sand from the other rivers in the area continues unabated in broad daylight. The government is keeping silence on this whole episode. https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/state/jharkhand/chatra/existence-of-mokshadayini-falgu-river-is-in-danger-due-to-illegal-sand-mining-illegal-business-is-flourishing-in-many-other-rivers-as-well/articleshow/95665129.cms  (22 Nov. 2022)

MAHANADI Odisha Ban sand mining in Satkosia, save Gharials’ A reduced water flow and the rampant sand mining in the Mahanadi have posed a serious threat to the ecosystem, particularly to the Gharials. The river Mahanadi is the ecological lifeline of Odisha with rich biodiversity and wildlife. Along with the Satkosia Tiger Reserve and Mahanadi Elephant Reserve, the Gharial Research Centre and Conservation Unit is completely dependent on the river ecosystem. Rampant illegal sand mining at Mahanadi near Athamallik has seriously affected the Gharial conservation. The illegal sand mining has further degraded the riverine habitat. Nesting and basking sites of the crocodiles are disturbed and lost and riverine species are affected. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2022/state-editions/—ban-sand-mining-in-satkosia–save-gharials—.html  (17 May 2022)

BRAHMAPUTRA Assam Gangetic dolphins decline Brahmaputra and the tributaries Kulsi and Subansiri are strongholds of the endangered Gangetic river dolphin. However, local communities and researchers note decline in populations. Dolphins in the Kulsi river are affected by relentless mechanised sand mining on the banks. The construction of dams in several regions in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh cut through dolphin habitats and limit the access to prey. Dolphins are more or less extinct in the Barak river system, with a handful found in tributaries such as Kushiyara and Soorma. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/08/gangetic-river-dolphins-in-assam-decline-in-the-wake-of-anthropogenic-pressures/#Echobox=1661344199  (24 Aug. 2022) Sand mining and other development activities make Kulsi dolphins more vulnerable. Recently one of the channels of the Kulsi was blocked by the sand miners impeding the free movement of dolphins. https://nenow.in/north-east-news/brahmaputra-tributaries-no-longer-secure-dolphin-habitats.html  (23 Jan. 2019)

The sand being offloaded from boats and taken to trucks waiting on the banks of the Kulsi. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar/Front Line

Mining threats to Kulsi river Indiscriminate and illegal mechanised sand mining, unplanned industrial growth and construction activities have destroyed the Kulsi river, the unique habitat of the endangered Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) in Kamrup district, Assam; the water depth has fallen below one metre in 35 locations and in 9 of these the river is virtually dry. Experts have warned that the residential population of the national aquatic animal is on the verge of extinction in the Kulsi. Besides, destruction of the river ecology and its riparian areas has turned thousands of fishermen living in nearby villages into daily-wage earners. https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/the-threats-the-kulsi-river-in-assam-is-facing/article38401148.ece  (25 Feb. 2022) 

Arunachal Pradesh Rivers facing threat from illegal mining Raising concern over the growing number of stone crushers operating illegally in places like Sopo village here, former president of the All Papum Pare District Students’ Union, Nabam Tado has lodged a complaint with the deputy commissioner. In his letter, Tado alleged that stone crushers are being operated illegally in Sopo village, Doimukh, without licence.

“Unchecked use of huge numbers of crawler excavators, wheeled excavators and dump trucks for extracting minor minerals from the riverbeds of Sopo and Rose villages are going on. This uncontrolled illegal quarrying from the riverbeds has not only endangered the age-old fish species but put the fish species once found in the Pare river on the verge of extinction,” Tado wrote. The activities also create noise and dust pollution in the village settlement areas, making the environment unhealthy to live in.

“Many landowners whose agricultural lands are located adjacent to the river banks of Sopo and Rose villages have seen their lands washed away every year in different locations during the monsoon season. Illegal mining of river sand and quartzite deplete the natural bed of the rivers and it causes soil erosion and reduces the water retention capacity of the water body, increasing the speed and scale of water flow,” he added. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2023/01/13/rivers-in-p-pare-facing-threat-from-illegal-mining-activities/  (13 Jan. 2022)

JHELUM Jammu & Kashmir ‘Mafia’ destroys rivers and wildlife While riverbed mining has always been conducted in this area, it was carried out manually by local workers, so the environmental impact was low. However, in the last few years, contractors have been bringing in heavy machines for riverbed mining, which is degrading and destroying these rivers. Since the cost of construction materials has also nearly doubled, locals believe that an organised mining mafia is working across the Kashmir valley, clandestinely backed by officials from several government departments including the geology and mining department, the irrigation and flood control department, and the departments of fisheries, revenue and police.

The riverbeds of the Doodh Ganga and the Shali Ganga in Budgam district are already over-exploited and unfit for mining. Any further mining will result in a disruption of water flow, which will impact the Hokersar wetland, a designated bird sanctuary just 10 km from Srinagar. In fact, the Hokersar wetland has already been impacted by the deep mining in the Shali Ganga and the Doodh Ganga. Silt has begun to accumulate in the area due to the muddy water brought to it by the Shali Ganga and the Doodh Ganga, which is the result of the deep mining of the riverbeds.

Part of the problem is the fact that no replenishment study has been conducted as demanded by the Enforcement & Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining, 2020. In fact, the entire tendering process is flawed. https://thewire.in/environment/as-govt-drags-its-feet-mining-mafia-destroys-kashmirs-rivers-and-wildlife  (02 Aug. 2022)

Illegal mining devastates fragile river ecosystem Illegal mining is fast silting up Hokersar wetland as Doodh Ganga passes through this wetland, which is a designated Ramsar site. Flow of silt has also converted a vast chunk of Hokersar wetland into marsh, disturbing the habitat of lakhs of migratory birds. The Wildlife Department last year even shot a letter to District Mineral Officer Budgam to stop illegal mining in Doodh Ganga but the Mining department failed to act.

All rivers and streams have a stable hydraulic regime, which governs course and parameters such as bed slope, width, depth of flow. Any mining of minor minerals boulder, gravel and sand has to be done in consideration of the entire regime of the river and its regenerative capacity of minor minerals. “This is to be based on EIA to avoid any damage to aquatic ecology of the stream and its biotic life. If this is not done in above consideration it will adversely affect the hydraulic parameters and aquatic ecology of the river or stream which can cause erosion of sides during floods and even result in changing the course of river at the cost of flooding living habitats on its banks or even washing away the same which come in the alignment of redefined course,” said Ajaz Rasool, a hydraulic engineer and environmentalist. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/front-page/illegal-riverbed-mining-devastates-kashmirs-fragile-river-ecosystem  (05 Jan. 2023)

SUTLEJ Himachal Pradesh When sand mining alters a river in Spiti Illegal extraction of sand in the Spiti valley is affecting the course of the Spiti river and in turn, people’s lives. The Spiti river has changed course over the years due to illegal mining, inundating farmlands and leaving many people landless. This video story displays the transformation of the river through the years, while also narrating the plight of the residents affected, and their demand for a clarity in sand mining law, to save their lands. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/05/video-when-sand-mining-alters-a-river-flooding-farmlands-in-spiti/  (12 May 2022)

Beas tributary changes course due to illegal mining Rampant illegal mining along the Beas has forced one of its tributaries to change its course, made the riverbed unstable and harmed Mol Khud, which feeds several drinking water supply schemes and irrigation channels in lower areas of Palampur. https://www.newsclick.in/Beas-Tributary-Changes-Course-Illegal-Sand-Mining  (09 Jan. 2023)

Goa Illegal sand mining poses threat to Mhadei Sand mining on many stretches of the river in the areas of Nagargao and Savarde panchayats has threatened the river’s banks and also the vasant bandharas constructed by the water resources department in many areas of Sattari.. Though the directorate of mines and geology has never permitted any sand extraction, the activity has been rampant on either bank of the Mhadei and its tributaries in Sattari. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/now-illegal-sand-mining-poses-threat-to-mhadei/articleshow/96052301.cms  (07 Sept. 2022)In many areas, rampant extraction of sand on both the banks of the Mhadei has deepened the river bed resulting in its erosion. Every year, during the monsoon, land collapse has been observed along either banks of the Mhadei. As machines are also used for the extraction huge pits have been created in some areas. The stretches where the illegality is presently in progress in Savarde also fall in the ecological sensitive zones notified for the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/goa-sattari-illegal-sand-mining-poses-threat-to-mhadei/articleshow/95842796.cms  (29 Nov. 2022)

CAUVERY, Tamil Nadu & Karnataka Otters & unseen change: Cauvery story by Rushikesh Chavan The smooth-coated otters are found throughout India – from the Himalayas to the southern tip of the country, except in the Thar desert and parts of Kutch. However, over the last couple of decades, this widely distributed species is facing immense challenges due to sand mining in the rivers, changes to and loss of habitats which could be attributed to climate change and conversion, and humans competing for fish.

The Cauvery delta is a good representative of what is happening to them across the country.  Otters being the top predator of river systems, are critical to the health of the river and therefore consequently, the delta. The river has faced varying issues including polluting sewage, dry patches, sand mining, and changes in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change. And needless to say, all these factors combined have had a great impact on the otter population.

A study published by WTI in 2003 suggested that the otter population is on the decline due to anthropogenic pressures. While threats of poaching and sand mining might be the immediate causes of their population decline, climate change is driving severe, long-term and possibly irreversible impacts by directly impacting their living conditions. With all these factors combined, the otter populations might get completely wiped out locally if immediate and effective actions are not taken. Sadly, it is believed that the otter populations in many sections of the Cauvery, have already been wiped out, and soon, without any focused interventions, many other populations might be facing the same fate. https://yourstory.com/socialstory/2022/06/sustainability-agenda-otters-the-river-and-the-uns  (01 July 2022)

The explosive growth of Bangalore city fuelled rampant and indiscriminate mining of sand all along the Cauvery, and large sandbanks now survive only within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Photos: Sugandhi Gadadhar and Rana Belur (part of their work supported by the National Geographic Society/ Round Glass, Dec. 2022)

Nisarg Prakash: Exposed sandbars and sandbanks are the centres of the otter universe. They are sites for play, grooming sessions, sleep, basking, and serve as signalling posts. Otters use sandbanks as communal latrines, frequently marking the same spot with their spraint (faeces) and urine. They also use sandbanks to dry their fur after a bout of hunting or play. The explosive growth of Bangalore city fuelled rampant and indiscriminate mining of sand all along the Cauvery, and large sandbanks now survive only within the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Photos: Sugandhi Gadadhar and Rana Belur (part of their work supported by the National Geographic Society) https://roundglasssustain.com/photostories/smooth-coated-otter  (20 Dec. 2022)

GODAVARI Telangana Illegal sand mining rampant in Adilabad There is rampant sand mining going on in areas through which Rivers Penganga, Pranahitha and Godavari flow. Village gram panchayats are complicit in the illegality, where 100 times more than permitted quantities of sand are being excavated. A result of such mining is that groundwater levels in surrounding areas have gone down. There are reports that even people from Maharashtra are mining sand illegally from the bordering areas of the erstwhile Adilabad district. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/crime/120422/illegal-sand-mining-rampant-in-erstwhile-adilabad-district.html  (12 April 2022)

THENPENNAIAR Puducherry Thenpennaiar ravaged by indiscriminate sand mining Despite NGT order to prevent illegal mining of sand, unbridled extraction of sand continues on the banks of the Thenpennaiar river in Soriyankuppam and surrounding villages in Puducherry, resulting in serious environmental degradation and systematic destruction of the groundwater aquifers in the region.

The Thenpennaiar river is the main source of irrigation for a large extent of lands in the north-western districts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. At Soriyankuppam, the river divides the limits of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu. The Mining and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (MMRDA) clearly stipulates that illegal miners and transporters should be imprisoned for a period of two years with a fine of ₹25,000. However, not a single person has been fined so far, say environmentalists.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/thenpennaiar-ravaged-by-indiscriminate-sand-mining/article38159666.ece  (06 Jan. 2022)

NETRAVATI Karnataka Illegal mining rampant in Phalguni Locals residing at Bangrakulur have accused that sand is being extracted illegally in copious amounts from Phalguni river. The residents say that the activities start as the sun sets. The local residents say, “Sand extraction is prohibited in this area which falls under CRZ. However, for the past 15 days illegal sand mining is in progress. District administration is alerted by the locals and appeal is submitted. Roads and houses are on the verge of collapse because of extracting sand from river. We suspect whether officials are quiet due to the pressure exerted by strong people in society.” https://daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay?newsID=966518  (07 June 2022)

PAMBA Kerala Mining Pamba for evading regulations About 6 lakh cubic meters of   sand has been dredged out from the River Pamba since 2020. As the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification- 2011 prohibits mining in this No-Development Zone, this is   packaged as a flood prevention project invoking the District Collector’s emergency powers under the Disaster Management Act 2005. 

The organisers invented a fake theory that floods are caused by the obstacles like the sandbar at Pozhy and the silt in the leading. MSSRF and IIT-M did not do any study in Kuttanad after 2018; nor did they recommend the dredging for flood prevention. The mining began with police protection in May 2020, in spite of the peoples’ resistance & the local government’s objections. 

The outrage in the River Pamba may have consequences on the water balance of the Vembanad Lake. A writ petition against the illegal mining in Thottappally was dismissed by High Court on 17 Nov 21. Another petition has been pending since 5 Oct. 2021. A lie has its own shelf-life. This lie has survived for 1221 days, undetected during exchanges in High Court, in NGT & in Kerala Assembly. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/363470466_Mining_the_River_Pamba_for_Flood_Prevention-Novel_ideas_for_evading_Regulations_from_Kerala  (Sept. 2022)

Some Useful Reports

UN Sand a strategic resource like water, rethink its exploitation A United Nations report released on Apr 26, 2022 has recommended that river sand needs to be considered by the governments as a strategic resource like water for its multiple roles in the environment and its extraction and use needs to be rethought. The UNEP report says sand is the second most exploited resource. And yet there are no credible governance guidelines or policies for the exploitation and use of sand, nor assessment of impact of unsustainable exploitation.

The report says: “Extracting sand where it plays an active role, such as rivers, and coastal or marine ecosystems, can lead to erosion, salination of aquifers, loss of protection against storm surges and impacts on biodiversity, which pose a threat to livelihoods through, among other things, water supply, food production, fisheries, or to the tourism industry.”

The report says, new institutional and legal structures are needed for sand to be more effectively governed and best practices shared and implemented. Sand resources must furthermore be mapped, monitored and reported on. All stakeholders must be involved in decisions related to the management of sand to allow for place-based approaches and avoid one-size-fits-all solutions.

An international standard on how sand is extracted from the marine environment should also be developed, the report proposes. The report recommends that the extraction of sand from beaches be banned due to its importance for coastal resilience, environment & economy.

It is unlikely that our governments will pay any heed to this report on their own unless there is push from all concerned. https://sandrp.in/2022/05/02/drp-nb-2-may-2022-sand-a-strategic-resource-like-water-rethink-its-exploitation-un/  (02 May 2022)

50bn tonnes of sand and gravel extracted each year 50 billion tons: enough to build a wall 27 metres wide and 27 metres high around planet Earth. This is the volume of sand and gravel used each year, making it the second most used resource worldwide after water, finds a new report by the UNEP. The report, Sand and Sustainability: 10 strategic recommendations to avert a crisis, released by UNEP’s GRID-Geneva team, provides the necessary guidance gathered from world experts to switch to improved practices for the resource’s extraction and management. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/our-use-sand-brings-us-against-wall-says-unep-report  (26 April 2022) UNEP’s Pascal Peduzzi who coordinated the report written by 22 authors said that some of the impacts of over-exploitation were already being felt. In the Mekong River – the longest in Southeast Asia -sand extraction was causing the delta to sink, leading to salinisation of previously fertile lands. In a Sri Lankan river, sand removal had reversed the water flow, meaning that ocean water was heading inland and bringing salt-water crocodiles with it. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/sand-crisis-looms-world-population-surges-un-warns-2022-04-26/  (26 April 2022) The UNEP says urgent action is needed to avoid a ‘sand crisis’ in its Sand and Sustainability report. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/06/global-sand-mining-demand-impacting-environment/  (30 June 2022) World is running out of useful sand https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/scientifically-speaking-the-world-is-running-out-of-useful-sand-101647415549457.html  (16 March 2022)

Women & woes of sand mining by Sumaira Abdulali “There is no credible assessment, neither environment assessment nor social assessment, of river sand mining in India, which can only be credible if there is an independent assessment. In absence of that, we are moving in darkness. We don’t even understand what the implications of river sand mining are,” says Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP, who has studied India’s rivers for three decades. https://www.forbesindia.com/article/take-one-big-story-of-the-day/women-and-the-woes-of-sand-mining/74267/1  (08 March 2022)

Dams, mining threaten freshwater ecosystem Since the past 2 years, the amount of sand extracted has increased due to Covid. Many governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to push through projects that would not have been approved otherwise. In fact, experts claim that governments will begin to invest heavily in infrastructure in order to promote the economy, which will result in a surge in demand for sand and gravel.

Sand mining has a negative influence on rivers, which is exacerbated by hydropower dams. The reservoirs behind hydropower dams were supposed to help control flood peaks in addition to powering turbines. But dams, on the other hand, don’t just trap water, they also trap sand and other sediment. They are expected to trap 77-99% of the natural sediment flows of rivers, but what still gets through the barriers is mainly fine sediments like silt and clays, not sand or gravel. As a result, riverbeds and banks are not replenished, making sand mining downstream even more unsustainable and exponentially increasing river channel and bank erosion. https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/sand-mining-threatens-freshwater-ecosystem-explainer-561468.html  (08 Feb. 2022)

Environmental impacts of sand mining: Excessive sand mining forces the river to change its course as sand and powders prevent the river from changing the course and act as a buffer for riverbed. Sand holds a lot of water and when it is mindlessly mined and transported, large quantities of water is lost in transit. There are a lot of microorganisms that are not visible and widely known but are critical to soil structure and fertility and illegal sand mining takes away their habitat. https://www.thestatesman.com/lifestyle/sand-mining-in-india-a-major-environmental-issue-1503119172.html  (08 Oct. 2022)

Summary In absence of credible impact assessments, accountable governance systems, transparent monitoring mechanism; the riverbed miners and mafias have been raging havoc on river eco-system and fresh water species in India.

The habitats of endangered gharials, turtels in Chambal; gharials in Mahanadi; Mahseer fish, turtles in Narmada; gangetic dolphins in Brahmaputra rivers and  fish, water birds in Yamuna and Jhelum rivers have faced destruction round the year.

The illegal, mechanized riverbed mining have been found destroying the hydrological functions of Yamuna, Ken, Betwa, Sone, Ganga rivers in north and central parts of country and Godavari, Cauvery, Thenpennaiar, Phalguni,  Pamba rivers in southern region.

Fearing political and mafia backlash, the mainstream media and local administration have largely chosen to play blind on brazen violation of norms ranging from diversion and impoundment of flows, creation of cross sectional bunds to instream mining with heavy machines and even increase in use of suction pumps to mine underwater minerals.

Quite a number of reports refer to “despite NGT orders” which proves that the law enforcers have scant regards for court orders and have no intention to ensure adherence to sustainable mining practices and respective regulatory norms.

To make quick, easy money, the politicians-mafia nexus is putting in more power, machines to suck out the life blood (minerals) of rivers. The revenue obsessed governments appeared unbothered and in case of Chambal instead of controlling illegal mining; planned to legalize the existential threat to endangered gharials and turtles.

There are hundreds of rivers in India out of media coverage where aquatic eco-system is being ruined by unsustainable mining operations round the clock. The river researchers, riverine people and media can play a significant role in bringing the issue to the fore by assessing, amplifying the adverse impacts to initiate steps to address the grave situation.

Sadly, the present ruling dispensation in Centre and several states encash rivers symbolically to mine political gains, but on ground have wilfully and systematically paralysed the already broken and insufficient riverbed mining governance. Hence, the year 2023 does not look very encouraging for the freshwater species, finite river minerals and already under assault river ecosystems in India.   

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

One thought on “2022: Riverbed Mining Destroying Indian River Eco-system & Freshwater Species

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