A committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests has confirmed that there is `rampant, unscientific and illegal mining’ being carried out along the Yamuna river. The extent of the mining can be gauged from the fact that the Yamuna’s river bed has been lowered in a 60 km stretch between the Okhla Barrage up to Gharbara village in Greater Noida.
Akash Vashishth of the Hindustan Environment Action Group confirms that “mining has lowered the Yamuna bed and if sand mining is not checked, we will see an Uttarakhand-like disaster with the river changing course during heavy rains.”
The problem is that extensive sand mining is taking place across every river in the country. The National Green Tribunal Bar Association has recently sought the intervention of the National Green Tribunal warning against illegal sand mining being carried out across several river beds, including the Ganga, Chambal, Gomti and Revati.
The situation is worse in the South with activists providing evidence to the NGT about rampant sand mining in the Narmada, Cauvery and Krishna rivers. Water experts believe that sand mining has created deep craters which are often 15 to 20 metres deep and the river waters must move in to fill these craters. This has happened along the entire Noida and Greater Noida stretch and also with the Ganga and Hindon rivers as well.
What is alarming is that these craters go on to contaminate the floodplain river aquifers which are a source of drinking water for our cities. Prof Vikram Soni of Jamia Millia Islamia University pointed out, “The Noida aquifers, which supply 80 per cent of water needs for Noida and Greater Noida (200 million litres per day), can no longer be used because these have been contaminated.”
Soni said, “The Noida and Greater Noida authorities were already over-extracting water from Yamuna and Hindon rivers. With sand mining taking out 7-8 metres of sand from the banks, this allows the river to spill over and contaminate these pure water sources. This is one of the main reasons why we are presently facing an acute water shortage across all our cities. Unfortunately, it is the political mafia which is responsible for this sand mining and therefore there is no political will to end it. ”
Sand mining is reported to be fetching politicians up to Rs 20,000 crore of revenue per annum. Abhijit Sen, a former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, has been quoted as having said that money from sand mining is being used to fund all political parties, whether it be the ruling Akali Dal in Punjab who control the state’s sand mining business and stone crushing operations or the TMC-controlled infrastructure syndicates operating in West Bengal. This is true across all our riverine states, including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh also.
The Supreme Court in its order dated 27 February, 2012, warned about the riparian ecology being adversely affected due to the ‘alarming rate of unrestricted sand mining’.
UP Irrigation Department officials have also warned the district authorities but whenever they have tried to act, it has boomeranged on them. Take the example of the suspension of SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal because of her efforts to rein in the sand mining mafia. The death of DK Ravi, an IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, found to be hanging in his home, has been linked to his efforts to put an end to sand mining. Several senior police officers have also been killed by members of the sand mafia.
While the environment ministry has warned that appropriate safety zones need to be worked out for all our rivers, the recent flashpoint reached between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is also a legacy of sand mining resulting in less water in Cauvery river.