Sand Mining

2023: Riverbed Mining Deaths & Violence in East India

(Feature Image: A sand loaded truck overturned on a passenger auto killing 5 people & injuring 5 others in Motihari, Bihar in Sept. 2022. Image Source: Dainik Jagran)

In this second part, SANDRP present summary report on riverbed minerals mining related human deaths and violent incidents in East Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and in North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur during April 2022 to February 2023. The detailed tabular report compiling all these incidents in past 11 months can be seen here. The first part of the series tracking the human death toll on account of illegal, unsustainable sand mining activities in North Indian states for the same period can be seen here

BIHAR

Bihar is emerging as top Indian state facing all sorts of sand mining related deaths and violence. The state has seen at least 83 human casualties and over 57 human injuries in illegal sand mining related incidents and accidents between April 2022 and February 2023. This includes the death of an elderly and injuries of 6 people on March 28, 2022 due to overturning of a sand mine trucks on a roadside house in Madhepura which we had not covered in last year’s report on the topic.

Of the total humans deaths, 32 sand workers have lost their lives due to accidents at mine sites and sand boat capsize incidents followed by 24 deaths due to drowning in deep sand mine pits and 20 casualties in road accidents by sand carrying vehicles and in this period. The state has also seen killing of 6 illegal miners in sand miner gang wars while sand mafia’s role is suspected behind murder of a local reporter.

Boatmen, local people gathered in large number at Sone river ghat after a cylinder blast incident killing 4 sand boat workers in Aug. 2022. Image Source: I Next Live

In past 11 months, Bihar has seen several accidents at mining sites including boat capsize in Ganga, Sone rivers resulting in deaths of 32 sand workers. Firstly, 4 sand workers were charred to death and about dozen were injured in cylinder blast incident at sand boat in Sone river in August 2022. Same month about 18 sand workers went missing after 6 sand boats capsized near confluence of Sone and Ganga rivers in Saran district.

Then 2 sand workers went missing after a hole in sand mine boat carrying more than 20 workers in Rohtas in October 2022. Same month, 5 workers were feared drowned in sand boat capsize incidents in Ganga. The boat was carrying about 15 sand workers and capsized after hitting a pillar of JP Setu bridge. 3 other workers were buried to death under sand heaps in two separate incidents in July 2022 in Patna and Saran districts.

Of the total 24 drowning deaths mostly of young children in sand mine pits, 8 has taken place in Sone river followed by 4 each in Chandan and Bhudiya rivers, 3 each in Ganga and Mahananda rivers and 1 each in Barmar and Kiul rivers in past 11 months. Several reports mention threats and concerns over deep pits created by excessive mining in Sone, Chandan, Budhiya rivers.

The aggrieved mother of a 10 year old kid who died by drowning in deep sand mine pit in Chandan river under Amarpur police station area in Banka district in May 2022. Image Source: Prabhat Khabar

This June 2021 report details deaths of at least 13 people in sand mine pits in Budiya river in Sherghati stretch in Gaya since 2014. SANDRP has also documented 33 drowning deaths in the state between January 2019 and March 2022. Despite pleas and protests by locals, the government has done nothing to check these untimely, avoidable human deaths in the state. 

Apart from the 20 casualties, the 16 road accidents which we could find in the reporting period by over-speeding and over-loaded sand dumpers, heavy trucks, tractors have left 19 people with minor or critical injuries. The death toll in these avoidable accidents is mainly comprised of minor kids, teenagers, women, elderly people and even sand workers and truck drivers.

The overturning of a sand truck on a passenger Auto in East Champaran in September 2022 killing 5 people and injuring 5 others; crushing down of 4 women in Vaishali in October 2022 by sand laden truck and sand truck mowing down 2 Bihar Military Police (BMP) jawans in Bhojpur in October 2022 are among the most tragic sand mining related road accidents in the state in the reporting period.  

The reports of multiple attacks on government officials suggest sand mafias have free run in Bihar. We could find at least 19 incidents of violent attacks, injuring more than 33 officials including policemen, officials from administration and mining department in past 11 months in the state. Opening fires, attempt to run over officials have become common practice adopted by sand mafias to eliminate the threats during raids on illegal sand mining. In several incidents the government officials have had narrow escape and illegal miners managed to run away with seized sand loaded vehicles.

In February 2023, the illegal miners tried to burn a mining official alive in Saran. Before this, a mining official was held hostage in December 2022 in Bhagalpur. Same month, illegal miners fired bullets on a woman mining officer, damaged her vehicle and ran away with seized tractor in East Champaran. The Jamui Magistrate and 3 policemen suffered injuries in a sand mafia attack in November 2022. In September 2022, the sand mafia threw the Vaishali ASI from sand laden tractor and tried to mow him down. SDM, Rohtas and his bodyguard were critically injured in attack by illegal sand miners in the same month. The brutal murder of 26 year old Subhash Kumar Mahto a local reporter in May 2022 is also attributed to his persistent reporting on the liquor and sand mafias in Begusarai.

In addition to attacks on government officials, the violent clashes between rival groups have led to death of 6 illegal miners in the state. Media reports mention death of 5 to 16 illegal sand miners during 3 days long gang wars in last week of September 2022 in state capital Patna, however police officials claim finding no dead body. This report describes the September 2022 violent clash revealing that the sand mafias are equipped with modern weapons and the administration knowingly hesitate interfering in their business. As per this report, at least 28 illegal miners have died in gang wars in the past two years in the state.

WEST BENGAL

There have been deaths of 13 persons and injuries to 49 persons in sand mining related accidents and violence in West Bengal between April 2022 and February 2023. Maximum death of 11 and injuries to 48 have occurred in road accidents by sand transporting vehicles in this period. This also includes March 14, 2022 road accident in Jalpaiguri which we had not covered in our last year report on the subject.

The damaged cycle of a person who was crushed to death by a sand laden truck in Asansol, West Bardhman in Nov. 2022. Image Source: Bengal Mirror Think Positive

Like the March 2022 Birbhum massacre, the illegal sand mining rivalry is suspected reason behind murder of 2 TMC workers in November 2022 in Birbhum and in January 2023 in East Bardhman districts. Illegal sand miners having political affiliation particularly with ruling regime is common practice in all the states.

West Bengal has also seen 2 incidents of attack of government officials injuring 3 officials including 2 Transport Department staff in May 2022 in East Bardhman and one senior IFS official in February 2023 in Jalpaiguri.

The road accidents in Jalpaiguri in March 2022, in East Bardhman and Midnapore in February 2023 resulted in large scale violence. It created law and order problems with agitated mobs resorting to burning down involved vehicles, stone pelting on police teams and damaging police vehicles ultimately requiring deployment of extra security forces and curfew like situation to control the angry mobs.  

A truck overturned on a home killing one and injuring two sleeping inside in Feb. 2023 near Kamalpur area of Khandghosh police station in East Bardhman. Angry local blamed overloading and poor condition of the road for the accident. Image Source: Anand Bazar

As we are filing this report, 3 children (two aged 15 year and one 12 year) engaged in loading of illegally mined sand from Balson river bank  have died after the vehicle overturned on March 06 nigh in Tripalijot in Matigara police station area, Jalpaiguri. As this summary is covering the sand mining related accidents from April 2022 to February 2023 period, the death toll from this incident is excluded here.

ODISHA

Odisha state has seen 4 deaths due to illegal sand mining between April 2022 and February 2023. 3 of the deaths and 5 injuries have taken place in road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles while one illegal miners died due to infighting between rival groups.

After Bihar, Odisha is second state in East India where illegal sand miners have frequently attacked the government officials in the past 11 months. We could find at least 9 incidents of violent attacks on police, revenue and administration teams by illegal sand miners injuring more than a dozen officials from these departments. 

The injured driver of Balasore sub collector. Both the collector and driver were attacked by illegal sand miners on Feb. 03, 2023. Image Source: TNIE

There is gradual rise in attacks on government officials by illegal sand miners in the state. In May 2022, an additional tehsildar and 3 Revenue Inspectors (RI) sustained injuries after being attacked by the sand mafia in Ganjam district during a raid on illegal transportation of sand from Rushikulya river bed near Malijagannathpur. Same month, 2 RIs and 3 policemen were injured in an attack by sand mafia in Balasore district when they were conducting raids on illegal sand mining in Subarnarekha. The report mentions, despite imposition of CrPC 144, the sand mafias continued to lift sand from the river.

2 district administration officials were attacked by the mafia when they seized tractors involved in illegal sand mining in Dhenkanal district in November 2022. Same month the administration imposed Section 144 to check illegal sand mining activities in Mayurbhanj district. In the latest such incident, Sub-collector of Balasore and his driver sustained injuries in an attack by illegal sand miners in first week of February 2023. The tehsildar of Derabis in Kendrapada district sustained serious injuries in the attack by illegal sand miners on February 17, 2023. 

The crushing down of a sand worker near Baspur village, Kendrapra on February 20, 2023 by a sand laden truck triggered violent incidents in which local people blocked the road, pelted stones and set ablaze a house belonging to a sand mafia. They were disturbed by official inaction on unabated illegal sand mining in Luna and damages to local roads.

JHARKHAND

There have been deaths of 11 people due to sand mining related accidents and violence in Jharkhand between April 2022 and February 2023. While 9 people were killed apart from 11 injured in road accidents by sand carrying vehicles; a sand worker have been killed in a mine collapse incident along Sivane river in Hazaribagh in June 2022 and a 7 year old boy died after drowning in deep illegal sand mining pit in Ajay river in Deoghar in June 2022.

The death toll in road accidents comprised of 3 common people (April 2022 in Kunti), an Army doctor (Ranchi in January 2023), a sand truck driver and cleaner (Ranchi in November 2022) and 3 youths of a family (Gumla in February 2023).

7 year old Krishan Kumar who died in deep sand mine pit in Ajay river near Raniganj under Sarath police station in Deoghar in June 2022. Image Source: Sharp Bharat

The state has seen at least 4 incidents of violent attacks on government officials in the reporting period. Firstly, a female circle officer in Bisunpura in Garhwa district and the SDM had a narrow escape when the sand mining mafia tried to mow them down with a truck in November 2022 in Garhwa. Then a sub divisional police officer (SDPO) and some of his team members sustained injuries after a sand mafia allegedly tried to run over the SDPO’s car by a dumper truck in Gumla district in December 2022.

Same month the in-charge of Budhai police station in Deoghar was injured in an attack by illegal sand miners.  In the latest incident, couple of senior officials and some policemen were attacked when they tried to prevent the illegal mining of sand from Barakar river in Hazaribagh district in January 2023. The illegal miners held hostage a police official and snatched away his service gun apart from robbing off his gold chain, ring and some cash.

CHHATTISGARH

In Chhattisgarh at least 13 people have lost their lives in sand mining related accidents in the reporting period. While 6 of the deaths occurred in 2 road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles, 7 villagers including 6 women died in a mine collapse incident along Indravathi river in Malgaon under Bastar district in December 2022.

Sand mining trucks, JCB burnt by naxals in Bijapur in April 2022. Image Source: Pratidin Time

In April 2022, seven heavy vehicles engaged in sand mining near Mingachal river in Bijapur were torched by the naxals. In August 2022, the forest guard in Gaurela district bordering Madhya Pradesh were beaten by illegal sand miners who ran away with 3 seized tractors in Madhya Pradesh area.

NORTH EAST

In Assam, 4 people have died in 3 road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles in past 11 months. While a dumper driver was killed after being hit by a train at an unmanned crossing in Borpathar under Golaghat district in November 2022; the collision between two trucks including a sand laden one, resulted in death of 2 persons and injuries of 2 others in Boko Police station area under Kamrup (Rural) district in January 2023.

The crushing down of a political worker by a speeding sand dumper in Udharbond area of Cachar district on January 1, 2023 turned into a violent incident in which angry mob battered and burnt down the dumper.

A quarry tipper truck fell in a river in West Sikkim in Dec. 2022. Image Source: Voice of Sikkim

In Manipur, a person was mowed down by tipper truck carrying sand from Tuitha river near Lengtonghoih Street in Chura-chandpur district on December 30, 2022. Similarly, a tipper truck on routine quarry work slipped down into a river near a steel bridge at Sangkhola close to Legship town in West Sikkim district on December 24, 2022. The driver and cleaner jumped off the vehicle and saved their lives in the nick of time.

Summary Table: Sand Mining Deaths & Violence in East India between April 2022 & February 2023

StatesDrowning deaths in sand mine pitsDeath in mine collapse accidentsDeaths in road accidents due to sand transporting vehiclesDeaths of citizens/ activists/ reporters in sand mining attacksDeaths of govt officials in sand mafia attacksDeath in sand rivalry &  gang warsTotal deaths
Bihar24322001NA0683
West BengalNANA11NANA0213
OdishaNANA03NANA0104
Jharkhand010109NANANA11
ChhattisgarhNA0706NANANA13
Total25404901NA09124

Summary

At least 124 people have lost lives in sand mining related accidents and violence in 5 states of Bihar (83), West Bengal (13), Odisha (04), Jharkhand (11) and Chhattisgarh (13) in East India during April 2022 and February 2023.

The maximum deaths 49 have taken place in road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles followed by 40 deaths of workers in accidents at mining sites or during mining activities in rivers. There have been 25 deaths due to drowning in deep sand mine pits while infighting and gang wars among rival groups have led to death of 9 illegal sand miners in this period.

Subhash Kumar Mahto local reporter who was murdered in May 2022 for exposing he liquor and sand mafias in Begusarai, Bihar. Image Source: The Wire

Of the total 124 deaths, 83 has happened in just one state of Bihar. The state has also accounted for 32 deaths due to mishaps at mining sites out of 40, 24 drowning deaths out of 25, nearly 40 percent of road accident deaths and 6 of gang war deaths out of total 9 in past 11 months. The death tolls from Bihar includes about 20 sand workers who went missing in 2 boat capsize incidents in August & October 2022 and we did not find follow up reports on final or actual status of these workers.

In addition to 49 human deaths, at least 83 people have suffered injuries in 35 road accidents by sand carrying vehicles. Of all human injuries 19 have happened in Bihar in 16 such road accidents followed by 48 injuries in W Bengal in 7 road accidents, 11 injuries in Jharkhand in 4 road accidents & 5 injuries in Odisha in 4 road accidents in the reported period. The 4 road accidents in Chhattisgarh resulted in death of 6 people but we did not find reports on human injuries on account of these accidents in the state.  Besides, there have been several road accidents by unidentified and untraced trucks, dumpers killing scores of people in these states.

Agitated people clashing with police after a 27 year old person is crushed to death by a sand laden truck in Dahmura area under Gopivallabhpur in West Mednapore district in Feb. 2023. The report also mentioned about 12 policemen getting injured in the incident. Image Source: TV9

The analysis of media reports also reveal Bihar and Odisha have witnessed multiple attacks on government officials by illegal sand miners. Overall there have been at least 35 incident of violent attacks causing injuries to more than 50 government officials including senior police and administration officials and staffs of mining, forest and revenue departments during raids or action against illegal sand mining activities in the region in past 11 months.

State wise, most of the attacks-19 have taken place in Bihar injuring at least 33 government officials, followed by 9 incidents of such attacks in Odisha causing injuries to at least 14 government officials. While the state of Jharkhand has seen 6 incidents of life threatening attacks on government officials, in West Bengal 3 government officials suffered injuries on account of attacks by illegal sand miners. We could find only one report of attack on forest guards by illegal sand miners in Chhattisgarh state in this period.

There have been several attacks on the government officials, where they have had narrow escapes from being mowed down or being shot dead by illegal sand miners. In many cases the actual numbers of affected officials have not been revealed in media reports.

Angry mob burnt down a sand dumper after it mowed down a BJP worker on Jan. 01, 2023 in Cachar, Assam. Image Source: Sentinel Assam

There have been 2 incidents of attacks by illegal sand miners on female government officials. First, the female circle officer (CO) of Bisunpura in Garhwa district Jharkhand along with the SDM had a narrow escape when the sand mining mafia tried to mow them down under a truck in November 2022. In another attack the illegal miners fired bullets on Ragini Kumari the woman mining officer during a raid on illegal sand mining in Gandak river in East Champaran, Bihar in first week of December 2022.

In addition to the East Indian states, there have been deaths of at least 5 persons in North Eastern states of Assam (4) and Manipur (1) particularly due to fatal road accidents involving sand transporting vehicles. We could not find media reports on the subject from other north eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in the reported period.

A school bus crushed under a sand truck after the truck fell off a flyover in Patna in Oct. 2022. Luckily the bus was parked empty otherwise the incident could have resulted in deaths of school children. Image Source: India Today.

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

Note:- The figures presented 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. Also there is hardly any follow ups on people critically injured in attacks by mafias and hit by sand trucks. The actual death toll and injuries by riverbed mining activities could be much higher than the numbers mentioned here.

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