Sand mining ban

Sand was traditionally extracted manually. The removed sand was naturally replenished every monsoon by the river. Now “removal” has been overpowered by “mining” which is a treat to our rivers. NABA BHATTACHARJEE analyses the sand mining ban, its impact and implementation.

A plethora of theories and legalities – mostly sensible but some senile, rusted or figment of imagination or individual interpretation is put forward on sand mining ban. A few by “all knowing” serving and ex “babus” are just preposterous to say the least. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) order on sand mining ban on river beds is restricted within an earlier Supreme Court ruling in case of Uttar Pradesh in 2012 (reiterated in Feb 2013); while rightly emphasising now on extending implementation of the orders all over the country. Earlier, environment impact assessments (EIA) were needed only for mining projects that were located in an area of 5 hectare or more. This “5 hectare catch” was subject to massive misuse in diversion of forest land for non-forestry purpose-mainly mining of limestone in our state. Mining proposals were often officially shown as less than the given area though a much larger area was eventually plundered. The green court reconfirmed environmental clearance mandatory for mining of minor mineral, including sand from river beds even in areas less than 5 hectares. Most mining activities are in violation of different existing environment benign Acts and Rules applicable all over India.

The impact of sand mining although apparently innocuous, is grave. It ranges from forcing the river to change its course, to affecting the groundwater tables and adversely impacting the habitat of micro-organisms. Moreover, sand is important for ground water recharge while on a riverbed it acts as a link between the flowing river and the water table and is part of the aquifer. Sand acts like a “pitcher” and holds a lot of water. The negative impact of illegal sand mining far outweighs the economic benefits. The devastation caused by floods in Uttarakhand reflects the affect of tampering with the rivers and their resources. When sand and boulders are removed using heavy machines, the erosion capacity of the river increases. The use of invasive explosives and heavy excavator machines witnessed during a recent “river walk” along Umiew is a cause of grave concern, as river beds shall soon become deep craters.

It is not long ago when sand was by and large extracted manually and what got removed was more than replenished every monsoon by the river. Now “removal” has been overpowered by “mining”; and that precisely is the threat. There is danger of livelihood loss that deserves priority. On the other hand conservation of water bodies besides feeding GSWSS is also the most vital aspect to attain the avowed goal envisaged in the flagship “Integrated Basin and Livelihood Development Programme” where a synergy among agriculture, horticulture, forest and plantation crops and particularly aquaculture is imperative and can be sustained only through measures aimed at protection of catchments, fortification of water bodies, strengthening natural sources and conservation techniques to ensure a sound perennial harvesting mechanism in perpetuity. In order to achieve even a modicum of success it is mandatory and of utmost necessity to protect the existing forest cover from a bigger menace – Quarrying! The flag of the flagship venture can “flutter” only then and adequately take care of all those daily wage earners rendered jobless after ban on sand mining and quarrying.