Illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh: Mafia takes to Narmada river to evade police as politicos play blame game

Illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh: Mafia takes to Narmada river to evade police as politicos play blame game

Illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh: Mafia takes to Narmada river to evade police as politicos play blame game

How sand mining has evolved to escape the clutches of law

Bhopal: The modus operandi of the sand mining mafia in Madhya Pradesh looks nothing short of a Bollywood action flick where the police is busy scanning roads in siren-blaring jeeps while the culprit escapes unchallenged through the water route.

In a new trend that is quite visible on the banks of the Narmada river, the biggest one in the state, the sand mafia is using jetties and boats to not just extract sand but also transport it across district borders. The new water transport route has become a convenient alternative to road transport that is often dangerous and expensive.

In the illegal sand mining industry, poor workers risk their lives in the daily death-defying-courage act without any safety equipment. All they have with them is the experience gathered over the years to rely upon.

The stretch of the Narmada river passing through Dhar, Harda, Dewas, Sehore, and Narsinghpur district is witnessing this new sand transport method that is far away from any policing or gang conflict.

The mining continues day and night where jetties assist the sand mining activity in the middle of the waterbody. After extraction, the sand is then pumped inside the boat and transported to collection centres.

Police not equipped enough for a river chase

At these collection spots, which may even be inter-district borders, tractors ferry the sand to godowns, markets or even directly to the construction site. In case the authorities spot them on their route, they divert the boat towards the other side of the river. Police can’t chase them in waters as they neither have the boats nor the training to sail the turbulent Narmada waters.

A visit to the Narmada bank in Harda district in the wee hours revealed the mining process. After choosing the spot, labourers lower down the pump for extraction. Those who cannot afford the pump, do it manually by relying on their swimming skills.

Usually, a single boat consists of 5 labourers who take around 3 hours to fill the boat. Each such labourer makes about Rs 700 in a day’s work.

The Harda district administration led by collector S Vishwanathan had formed special teams to check the illegal sand mining in the district last month but all they could do was to put nakas (checking stops) on major roads of the district. A few dozen trucks laden with sand were even seized but the extraction did not stop. Huge heaps of sand are still visible kilometres after kilometres in the areas of Khedinima and Manoharpur. The seized sand creates another problem for the administration as they don’t have space to store it and also creates traffic hindrance.

The inaction of successive governments

Both the Congress and the BJP seem to bury their heads on the issue of illegal sand mining in the state. The Congress has accused the BJP of inaction on illegal sand mining during its 15 years of rule between 2003 and 2018. But now the Congress, after returning to power in the state, also seems to be struggling. Recently in Chhatarpur district, from where too the Narmada river passes, a former BJP MLA and a sitting Congress MLA locked horns over supporting their followers indulged in sand mining.

In a report tabled before the Assembly last month, the state government admitted that over 200 complaints on illegal mining in the Narmada river were registered during the past five years. However, the action was limited only to seizing of vehicles. In Jabalpur district, 123 complaints were registered but only one vehicle was seized in between 2014 and 2018.

Another shocking revelation that the Assembly document revealed was that in many cases, a penalty was imposed on violators under the provisions of the Mining Act but it could not be recovered from the violators. In Narsinghpur district, a mining contractor found violating mining limits was fined about Rs 50 lakh, but not a penny was recovered from him. Similar penalties amounting up to Rs 3.5 crore have not been recovered from the violators. Most of such cases are pending before the court of the district magistrate for several years.

A total of 42,152 cases of illegal mining for major and minor minerals were registered in the state from 2009 to 2015. Journalists and officers have been killed while trying to stop the rampant business in the state. In the last incident, that took place in September 2017, deputy forest ranger Subedar Singh Kushwaha was crushed to death in Bhind district while he was trying to stop a truck laden with illegal sand.

Vinayak Parihar, an environmental activist, said “Illegal mining just cannot happen without political patronage. In my hometown Narsinghpur the situation is similar. Earlier BJP people were working and now after the Congress has come to power, both are fighting over illegal mining in the Narmada.”

State mining resources minister Pradip Jaiswal blamed the policy of the erstwhile BJP government for illegal sand mining in the state. “We are coming up with a new mining policy after Lok Sabha elections that will put an end to it,” he promises.


(Note - caption of photo attached with this file - all photos of chhipaner bank of narmada river situated at Harda district of Madhya Pradesh)


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