Illicit quarrying in Garh region
by Shivani Sharma
We talk about the environment, we talk about nature, we talk about conservation we talk so much and we sound too wise when we discuss Mother Earth because we claim to care about the human race and its supporting system. But the truth is we are not. When we know that we are nothing without nature why do we have to harm it, what is the need? Questions won’t ever end. You will find several people talking about the problems. There are problems but, where is the solution? Coming straight to the point, we humans are becoming so selfish that we tend to sacrifice our future in front of the short-term profits. Again, what are those profits which are compelling us to play with our health and future generations, is it only about money? There is no point in getting to the core of this topic but still, we would dive into it because it will take us to the middle of nowhere and we will be lost in another loop with millions of questions to get them answered.
Lately there has been a shot in the real estate sector booming 157 billion dollars, we can see cities turning into concrete jungle, most widely used materials used are concrete and stone, which is been transported to several parts of our country, where stones and sand is mined indiscriminately from the riverbeds and hills without considering the consequences. Sand is an important component of the construction, the growth rate of construction is pacing but the material is not available due to the restriction in the mining process and this has resulted in the growth of illegal sand miners guarded by the dangerous mafias. The intense mining has an adverse affect on the major rivers and the surrounding ecology.
Mortifying riverbeds or in-stream mining kicks up loose sediment particles into the river body and extraction of sand from the river banks destroys the flora and fauna which pollutes and damages the health of aquatic life. Without enough sand in the river to act as a buffer to check the velocity of the river it results in downstream flooding. The rivers have been polluted to a large extent and a huge pile of waste carried by rivers gets collected on the riverbanks and local residents suffer from the contaminated water supply and decreased ground water levels.
Wait a minute, we all know about this; the government has imposed some duties and orders against mining. Where is the point in questioning this again? According to Supreme Court order, 2012 all the sand mining, including that on land less than five hectares has been banned without the special permit of Ministry of Environment (MoEF). Even National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013 issued notices against violators of the SC order. That has to be enough for the regulation of mining practices, this time we can say that government is looking after this particular section. To our distress, the fight is still on; our state is still under the paws of these illegal miners deploying the jewels of our ecosystem. The ‘Matri Sadan Ashram’ in Haridwar is famous for its fight against sand mafia in the state. The first protest came into the picture after an old saint died after 115 days fasting for the protest against illegal mining on the Ganga River. That was when the mining halted for a while but nature has it say, when the flash floods of 2013 destroyed nearly everything reflecting the consequences of human interference and once again it was proved that if nature has created us it has all power to devastate us completely. This has to be the greatest lesson for miners and authorities, this was the time to wake up and have a proper check. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) declared that when disaster stuck in June 2013 it was due to rampant mining that the scale of damage was so extensive. This was something real serious but wasn’t taken seriously, three months after the disaster mining continued in certain places like, ‘Baluket’, ‘Jualjibi’ and ‘Jhulaghat’. Why should this bother them? After all these places were not affected by the flood, they will continue mining because they were not harmed.
In 2015 there were some odd raids which were conducted to silence the critics’ and for the sake of records. It could be clearly seen how the mineral wealth of Uttarakhand was being looted by the politician-babudam-mafia nexus. The mining mafia developed powerful frontage from the politicians and they somehow managed to get the permission for mining on the river banks. Those who are actually responsible for stopping the mining are acting as the hand in glove with the culprits.
Even after the repeated request, NGT turned the pleas down for a complete ban on mining stating that the sand collected at riverbed has to be removed according to ‘established practice’ only illegal practices has to be stopped. It seems like they are creating a loop hole so that it can easily be deformed and molded accordingly. Somehow their efforts for stopping illegal mining are crystal clear from the raids when the mafia was taken unaware and the authorities responsible for having a regular check over mining was caught with its pants down. Uttarakhand government seems very experimental and innovative in its approach since it was taken aback by illegal miners so it came up with a helpline for dealing with illegal mining in the hill state. This is an appreciable step Uttarakhand is the only state with an innovative idea like such. There was special force formed in 2014 called Uttarakhand Special Mining Vigilance Force (USMV) which unearthed a total of 370000 sqm of illegally mined items which could fetch state government the revenue of Rs 16 crore. Then in August 2016 UK government decided to use ‘Drone’ to check the Gaula Riverbed. Drone is an aerial vehicle with a primary purpose to check areas like swamps and forested areas that are not easily accessible to regular staffers. Quite impressive stuff, however, these were never talked about again.
Despite the efforts of government, the report from May 2016 states that there were more than 3700 hectares of riverbeds of 7 important rivers of Kumaon and Garhwal region quarried for stones and sand that feed the construction boom in the hill state. When the state was under President’s rule Union Forest and Environment Ministry cleared the state forest department’s proposal for the resumption of mining activities but again there was no such effect on the miners as they stop for a while but then again continue to mine after few days. Recently the After the Assembly Code of Conduct was imposed during the election, illegal mining was reduced but after few days it continued with its full pace.
It is clear that no matter what orders or notices are released mafias will find a new way out to mine illegally since they are getting a huge profit with literally no investment. An environmentalist Mr. Ashok Kumar says that “It is difficult to stop these illegal practices as the margins are 200-300%. A truck pays about Rs 500- Rs1000 to fill up the sand this is then sold at 3 times the price in the market”. This is the bitter truth they know the consequences but is ready to give up all their responsibilities toward nature and devastate it for the sake of short-term profit. What are they waiting for, another disaster which will drown every bit of human existence? They still believe that nature only gives and does everything positive to us. This is like a slow poison the effect is slow but the death is certain.