(Feature Image: March 2022 Google Earth image showing excessive mechanized mining in Ken river at Chatkan meander in Banda)
Ken river one of the important tributaries of Yamuna in lower segment has been witnessing industrial scale riverbed mining in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. The Sentinel Hub satellite images reveal the mechanized mining of morrum (light orange colour sand) has been going on unabated at multiple locations in the district. Recent local media reports have also highlighted the illegalities and violations of the rules by the miners.
The information on Directorate of Mining & Geology website shows that there are 50 sand mine sites in Banda district of which 36 sites are closed. The complete list of 50 closed and active sand mine sites in Banda can be seen here.
Of total 14 active sites 8 are in Banda, 4 in Pailani tehsil and 1 each in Ataraa and Naraini tehsils. These 14 sites cumulatively cover 241.22 acres of riverbed land leased out to mine 5574 cubic metre of morrum for next 3 to 4 years. The website has not been updated since February 2022 and mentioned only 12 cubic meter as dispatched minerals so far from these 14 active mines.
River Meander, Sand Island Ravaged at Chatkan (Maruli Khadar)
Ken river forms a unique U shaped meander at Chatkan village about 10 km northwards from Banda district. The meander is comprised of an elevated sand island (of about 60 hectare) and sandy floodplain roughly covering over 2 square kilometre area.
A thin soil layer forms the surface top of sand island supporting vegetative cover. The patch has been used for cultivation of typical floodplain vegetables by marginal farmers from nearby villages. This meandering channel, sandy floodplain and sand parcel greatly supports river hydrology and riparian biota as was observed during Ken river walk by SANDRP and Veditum India in June 2017.
(Sentinel Hub Dec. 2020 & April 2023 images showing impact of destructive riverbed mining activities at Chatkan meander, Banda)
But, the Sentinel Hub satellite imagery animation shows that about 1 sqkm of the meandering floodplain including half of the sand parcel has been wiped off by excessive mechanized mining between December 2020 and April 2023.
Another Google Earth imagery of March 2022 reveals more than 250 heavy trucks making bee line through the floodplain and over 45 giant poclain machines digging out riverbed in unsustainable and illegal manner.
The mining department website mentions the location as Maruli khandar and shows 4 active sand mine leases there with a target to mine 1989 cubic metre of morrum from 91 acres of riverbed. The information on these sites has not been updated since February 2022 and just 3 cubic metre is mentioned as dispatched minerals.
However, approximated measurement from satellite imagery reveals that over 240 acres of floodplain is directly affected by the mining operations and actual mining has taken over 130 acres of riverbed land which is about 39 acres more than permission granted.
The meandering channel, floodplain and sand parcel has been ravaged by the miners in worst possible manner. Around a dozen giant deep ponds with multiple bunds and cross sectional road cum bund across the river at the beginning of the meander are also clearly visible in the satellite imagery.
All these are clear violations of mining rules adversely impacting the river eco-system, aquatic and riparian wildlife and dependent people including riverbed farmers, fishermen and boatmen. However, the regulators have totally failed to ensure compliance of norms.
Riverbed, Banks Ruined at Amlor Khadar, Khaptiha Kala, Khairai, Achhraundh (Achraud), Bhawani Purwa
Situation at 7 other mine sites in the Banda district including 3 sites at Khatiha Kala and 1 each at Amlor Khadar, Khairai, Achhraundh and Bhawani Purwa is similar.
At Amlor Khadar 25.29 acres of riverbank is leased out to mine 586 cubic metre of morrum. However March 2022 Google Earth imagery shows mechanized mining going on at 2 sites comprised of 72 acres and 55 acres of land along the Ken river. The miners have also built about 4 km long bund-cum-road through the active riverbed.
The mine has been leased out in May 2021 for five years, up to May 2026. The Mining Department website updated up to February 2022 shows only 1 cubic meter as dispatch mineral quantity.
The particular stretch of riverbank has provided habitats for wild creatures and has been used for cattle grazing, socio-economic and other recreational purposes as common natural resource by the villagers but now it has been severely degraded by the excessive riverbed mining operations.
The 3 mine sites in Khaptiha Kala comprise of 55 acres of riverbed land leased out to mine 804 cubic metre of morrum for a period of 5 years. The mining department website not updated since February 2022 shows just 3 cubic metre as dispatched minerals. However, the March 2022 Google Earth Imagery shows about 165 acres of riverbed severely impacted by miners which is twice more than the area leased out for mining.
The miners have blocked the active flowing channel of Ken river at both ends and constructed about 2 km long linear bund-cum-road through active riverbed apart from half a dozen cross sectional bunds to carry out in-stream morrum mining.
Excessive mining has also taken place over 60 acres of riverbed land at Rehutan just 4 km downstream Khaptiha Kala sites but there is no mention of this site on Mining Department website.
At Khairai the mining department in January 2022 has leased out 5.80 acres of Ken riverbed land for mining of 565 cubic meter of sand for 5 years. However, the March 2022 Google Earth Imagery shows over 50 heavy trucks and a dozen poclain machines carrying out excessive mining impacting about 17 acres of riverbed land apart from creating about 1 km long bund-cum-road through active riverbed.
Like Rehutan, more than 15 acres of Ken riverbed has been excessively mined at Bilauta village but there is no information about this site on Mining Department’s website.
Recent media reports have repeatedly highlighted illegal sand mining going on at Achhraundh site also spelled as Achrud & Achraud by the Mining Department. Presently, there is only one active sand mine site covering 10.70 acres of land. The site has been leased out in March 2021 for 5 years to mine 311 cubic metre of sand.
The other mine site there comprised of 28 acres of land to mine 254 cubic metre of morrum is shown as closed in February 2020 with dispatched mineral quantity shown as just 1 cubic metre although the lease period was given for upto December 2024.
The latest Sentinel Hub and March 2022 Google Earth Imagery show gross violation of norms at the Achhraundh site just downstream Bundelkhand Expressway. Excessive mechanized sand mining activities have taken place on both the banks of the river impacting over 200 acres of riverbed there. The miners have also built about 4 km long bund-cum-road on both banks channelizing the river course. In-stream mechanized mining has been carried out by construction of cross sectional bunds completely blocking the flowing path of the river.
Hardly 3 km upstream Achhraundh site, Google Earth March 2022 imagery shows rampant sand mining activities impacting over 50 acres of riverbed land at Kanwara but the Mining Department’s website shows the site as closed since February 2020.
At Bhawani Purwa mine site just 4 km away from Banda railway station over 20 acres of riverbed has been ravaged by excessive sand mining operations, however the official information mentions leasing out only 4 acres of land for mining of 266 cubic metre of sand. A large portion of riverbed across the site also bears scars of excessive sand mining activities.
The mine site is just 1.5 km upstream of intake well through which drinking water is supplied to Banda city. In May 2019, the illegal mining activities have impounded the river flows resulting in disruption of water supply to the intake well thus creating water crisis in the Banda city following which the policemen were deployed to guard the river. Despite this, the administration seems to have learnt no lessons as brazen riverbed mining activities continues there.
The situation is equally worse at remaining 2 sand mine ghats in Attarra and Naraini tehsils. In addition, the unabated transportation of heavy sand tucks have reportedly posed threats to the safety of Syondha bridge connecting Girwan in Banda to Madhya Pradesh.
Situation no better in Panna, Madhya Pradesh
Apart from Banda, the Ken river has been witnessing large scale mechanized and illegal sand mining operations at multiple sites including Sunhara, Beera, Farswaha, Udaipur and Chandipathi areas under Ajaygarh tehsil in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh.
As per a recent Hindi report, the State Assembly election are due in one and half year, hence the sand mafias are let loose to plunder the river of the minor minerals. Blocking of river course, in-stream mining, use of heavy machines despite prohibition have become common practice to carry out excessive riverbed mining at these locations.
The relatives of politicians are reportedly involved in illegal sand mining businesses discouraging the concerned officials to initiate administrative actions. The sand miners have hired armed goons to threaten and harass the farmers, villagers for objecting to destructive mining activities. Fearing the mafias the affected villagers have even stopped raising complaints. The brazen mining operations have been adversely affecting the aquatic life, riverbed farmers, common grazing lands and ancient ghats along the Ken river in Ajaygarh.
Is Governments Deliberately allowing Destruction of Ken River?
Sand is finite mineral. It plays crucial role in maintaining the river health and hydrology apart from supporting wide range of riverine flora and fauna. The local people also depend on this common resource for various livelihood activities.
Though, Ken is listed among one of cleanest rivers of India, the ongoing industrial scale illegal and mechanized sand mining operations in Banda and Panna have been ruining the river ecosystem and affecting the dependent people in worst possible manner.
Like water in rivers, the government policies consider sand as economic resource and facilitates its unsustainable exploitation. The concerned citizens are kept away from the decision making and even basic information pertaining to sand mining lease as is evident from the fact that the Mining Department, Uttar Pradesh website is not updated and incomplete since February 2022.
All of the sand mine sites along the Ken particularly in Banda have been impacting more than 5 hectares of riverbed land which are required to go through Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Public Hearings by State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) however these mandatory processes are apparently not conducted by the Mining Department as there is no related document available in public domain for the analysis and scrutiny.
March 2022 Google Earth screen record shows over250 heavy trucks and more than 45 JCBs, Poclain machines ravaging about 1 sqkm Ken riverbed area at Chatkan in Banda.
Similarly, information and documents for the mandatory District Survey Reports (DSR), Replenishment Studies, District Mineral Foundation & Funds (DMF) are not uploaded on the government website. The regulators have squarely failed to ensure compliance of sustainable sand mining guidelines and several court orders which prohibit use of heavy machines, in-stream mining, construction of bunds and roads across river course and along the riverbed.
The available media reports, satellite imageries and ground experiences only suggest that while the sand mafias in Banda and Panna continue to destroy the Ken river eco-system; the riparian communities as primary and worst affected stakeholders still have no say in sand governance affairs. If things keep on going at this scale, there is strong possibility of collapse of Ken river eco-system on account of illegal and unsustainable mining operations.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)