Illegal mining of sand and boulders near the Ganga is quite rampant in Haridwar and the neighbouring areas of Uttarakhand despite a crackdown by the authorities. Experts feel this could cause serious consequences for the river as well as the people whose livelihoods are dependent on it.
The issue has been raised several times in the past. Swami Nigmanand of Matri Sadan, a social activist, was on a hunger strike over the issue which led to his death about four years ago. The Union Environment Ministry had sent a team earlier this year to Haridwar, which gave an adverse report, following which the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned illegal mining along the river. However, the administration has failed to take effective steps to check these activities which are taking place unabated in connivance with the builders’ lobby.
Despite the orders to shut down mining activities, unauthorised mining still continues in the wee hours of the night till early morning in the district. “The mining usually starts late in the night nowadays and continues till early morning. By that time, all the mined sand and boulders have already been transported by tens of trucks that frequent these mining sites,” Bidha Ram, a social activist and resident of Haridwar, told this newspaper.
He said: “The flow of the Ganga has been affected so much. The river’s ecosystem is being harmed for the sake of money. Large scale mining is carried out in Haridwar. The mining activity in fact starts from Rishikesh, where the illegal miners excavate boulders from the riverbanks and the riverbed.”
This correspondent, while visiting the unauthorised mining sites, found mining equipment lying near the riverbed in Raiwal near Haridwar; and at some places he found trucks that were being loaded to transport the mined sand. Boulder mining was also seen near the low depth stretches of the river in Rishikesh.
“You can see the actual situation on the ground. The authorities are not doing anything. In any case, it is not possible to monitor the whole stretch of the river day and night. These people who are violating the holy river should be punished severely. It is important to understand that the river supports the life of more than 40 crore people in the country,” Swami Dayanand told this newspaper.
“Destroying its ecology is going to harm many people. This kind of abuse is irreparable and we all need to realise that any kind of short term profit cannot outweigh the relevance of the Ganga and its value in our lives. We have been fighting for this cause for so many years. Our own Swami Nigmanand lost his life for this cause. People took notice for a few days and then forgot about him. The sand mafia are destroying this region,” he added.
A massive amount of sand is required by the construction industry for its projects. Despite a legal framework in place in some states, the industry digs up a huge quantity of sand by dredging earthen materials from riverbeds beyond sustainable limits.
“In every river, the ‘sand mafia’ purges the depths for profitable sand. The yearly turnover from sand mining from rivers is over Rs 1,000 crore.
Sand mining can be held responsible for various social and economic dilemmas as well. It brings revenue to the panchayats and also the state government. This gives rise to corruption and conflict of interest. So a certain kind of relationship emerges between local political leaders, contractors and bureaucrats creating a strong power nexus. This nexus is very capable of countering community-wide resistance,” said Jaideep Gulati, a Haridwar-based environmentalist.
Till now authorised mining was being carried out in Uttarakhand on 1,380 hectares near the Ganga and its tributaries like Ganga Bhopur, Ganga Vishnupur, Kotawali, Rawasan and Rawasan-II, which flow through Shyampur and Chidiyapur ranges of Haridwar Forest Division. State authorities have, for the time being, shut down all kinds of mechanised mining near the Ganga.
Earlier, S.T.S. Lepcha, additional principal chief conservator of forests and managing director of UFDC, had said that mining will be carried out on 1,380 hectares of land near the Ganga and its tributaries like Ganga Bhopur, Ganga Vishnupur, Kotawali, Rawasan and Rawasan-II.
Lepcha had said that it is important to have regulated mining along certain designated stretches of the Ganga, covered by the Shivalik Hills. The sand and boulders that the river currents wash down from the higher areas need to be removed regularly to clear the river path and prevent flooding in some flood-prone areas.
In March this year, a team from the Union Environment Ministry had visited different areas in Haridwar to ascertain in which places illegal mining was taking place. The team submitted its report on 27 March. In April, the National Green Tribunal had banned all illegal, unauthorised and unscientific mining.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in its report “Mining of minor minerals in Dhobighat, Misserpur, Ajeetpur, Bishanpur, Sajjanpur, and Raighat Aithmal on the riverbed of the Ganga in Haridwar” stated that hundreds of tractors were engaged in transport of the minor minerals (sand, bajri and boulders). The report had further stated that no government official was found in the area and recommended that illegal mining in the area be immediately stopped.
“The NGT gave regular orders to shut down illegal mining in the region more than six months ago but there seems to be no strong response from the local authorities. The people involved in mining need some moral introspection as well,” Bidha Ram said.
Harish Semwal, district magistrate of Haridwar, told The Sunday Guardian: “The SDM of Haridwar gave orders recently to close down all mechanised mining activity across the stretch of the Ganga and opened a dialogue process with all stakeholders. I have written to the director of mining and geology seeking direction for shutting down mining from Raiwal to Bhogpur in the light of the orders of the High Court and the National Green Tribunal wherein directions were given to not issue permits for riverbed mining to people who have less than five hectare land lease.”