Unregulated sand mining threatens Indian rivers - Ground report article

This article takes a look at unregulated sand mining, which is supported by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, has lead to destruction of forests, land and rivers.

Article and Image Courtesy: Ground Report

Many in India, perhaps, are not able to foresee how lack of governance, virtually, in every sphere is going to hit them in not too distant future. Take for instance mining. Illegal mining of mineral resources, with generous help of political and bureaucratic big wigs, is so rampant that not only are the country’s precious natural resources being purloined in a big way, its forests are being clean-felled, land degraded and its rivers threatened with extinction.

Mining of sand, for instance, is depleting the waters of the rivers. While the construction boom fuels the demand, weak governance and rampant corruption are facilitating uncontrolled and illegal mining of sand and gravel in the rivers, threatening their very existence. What is happening is nothing but suicidal. This mindless, unrestrained and unregulated activity is posing threats of widespread depletion of water resources which may lead to avoidable food shortages and hardships for the people.


Sand mining


Sand is vital for sustenance of rivers. Geologists know that uncontrolled sand mining from the riverbed leads to the destruction of the entire river system. If sand and gravel is extracted in quantities higher than the capacity of the river to replenish them, it leads to changes in its channel form, physical habitats and food webs – the river’s ecosystem. The removal of sand from the river bed increases the velocity of the flowing water, the distorted flow-regime eventually erodes the river banks. Beside these on-site effects the off-site effects are also quite lethal. Sand acts like a sponge, which helps in recharging the water table; its progressive depletion in the river is accompanied by sinking water tables in the nearby areas, adversely impacting people’s daily lives, even their livelihood.

River sand, therefore, is vital for human wellbeing. That, however, is yet to be appreciated, for instance, in the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh where unscrupulous contractors, with more than willing co-operation of the corrupt government officials, are emptying the river beds of sand. Whether it is the major rivers like Narmada, Chambal, Betwa or Wainganga or numerous rivulets and streams all are being ravaged for their sands. The state Government has wittingly lent a helping hand for the loot. Overstepping its authority, it exempted mining of sand and gravel from any kind of environmental clearances under Rule 49 of its Minor Mineral Rules notified in 1996, neutralising the provisions made in several Central legislations on conservation of environment and mineral resources. None of these central legislations has delegated powers to the states to amend any of their provisions. Worse, a section of the contentious Rule authorises the government to exempt any mine to operate without obtaining environmental clearance. Hundreds of lessees of the Mining Corporation of Madhya Pradesh are, therefore, merrily excavating sand from the State’s rivers, generally, disregarding all environmental regulations. Mercifully, Ajay Dube, the social activist secretary of “Prayatna”, a reputed environmental advocacy group, has approached the State High Court for quashing of the unconstitutional exemptions so that indiscriminate mining of sand could be put a stop to. After all, the State’s water security is at stake, as indeed its food security.

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