“Undermining the Ganga” by EcoFriends
Illegal sand mining tacitly condoned by influential citizens is causing the Ganga to move further away from its shorelines along a 5 km stretch, in the north Indian city of Kanpur
It is not a pretty sight.
Miners have erected blockades at the river near the ancient Siddhnath ghat consisting of high density plastic bags and stones across the river.
The obstructions have led to diversion of the river course downstream and resulted in water stagnation in many places. As the local effluent treatment plant is upstream, dilution of sewage and tannery waste is hampered by the reduced flow of the stream.
Dissolved oxygen in the water has now fallen below 3.5 mg/l, which is lower than the lowest permissable limit of 5mg/l. Recently, when the waste was drained into the river, shoals of fish died due to a sheer lack of water. Comments Vinod Tare, senior scientist with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, “If the natural flow of a river is disturbed, negative impact is felt on aquatic creatures living near the banks.”
“The dry riverbed on which mining is being carried out is notified as reserve forest,” says Narendra Vikram Singh, deputy conservator of forests in Kanpur. Singh points out that on October 25, 2000, the central government in New Delhi issued a 10-year lease to the state forest department to undertake collection of sand from 25 hectares of the river bed under certain conditions. The contract of sand mining was granted by the forest department to two people with political influence.
Sand collection was to be done in accordance with the Mines & Minerals (Regulation & Development) Act, 1957, which forbids any activity during the night. However, trucks are transporting the sand during the night anyway. The forest area where sand is quarried should be properly demarcated. But miners are carrying out the activity according to their free will, at any place that they find suitable.
Under the stipulations, no new roads/tracks should be constructed within the forest area. But the track that has been built up with the obstructions, while changing the course of the river, flouts the law. Besides this, extraction of bed material should have been from the middle of the river bed after leaving one-fourth of the river bed of each bank untouched. This was not done. There are also camps for the workers, which are unauthorised.
The district administration is fully aware of illegal sand mining. Yet it is apparently conniving with the sand mining mafia and abetting them. Every day around 400 trucks are loaded with sand and the miners get a royalty of Rs 400 (about $10) for each truckload.
Last year, this industrial-political nexus became more pronounced. Acting on public interest litigation (PIL) filed in December 2001, the Allahabad High Court summoned the district magistrate who set up a taskforce comprising of 11 administrative officials from the municipal water corporation and irrigation and forest departments. The body gave a clean bill of health to the miners. At that time, Magistrate SK Singh is reported as saying that for sand mining, barriers are necessary. He denied that blockades had diverted the course of the river in any way. River diversion takes place only when silt accumulates during the monsoon, he reportedly said.
The taskforce constituted by the district magistrate said that no illegal mining was taking place, nor was the natural flow of the river being tinkered with. It stated that the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) had stated that the gunny bags filled with sand do not pollute the Ganga. Ironically, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Kanpur, zonal officer BP Shukla said that if done in an unscientific manner, sand mining would certainly cause ecological imbalance and cause havoc on riverine ecology.
According to the document, sand mining was not interfering with the operations of the local effluent treatment plant. It also said that on surprise inspection, no illegal mining after sunset was discovered.
The reality is that the team did not even visit the site and did a cursory job. “The report is eyewash. It was prepared in just a day without consultations from the departments concerned,” said Rakesh Jaiswal, executive secretary Eco-Friends Society in Kanpur. He alleged that the sand mafia and the district officials work hand-in-glove. This mafia intimidates those who oppose them, he said.
In January 2001 the chief minister of the state directed the district administration to look into the matter. Interestingly enough, the administration had at that time agreed that obstructions were erected in violation of the rules.
Again, on February 23, 2002, the officer in charge, IP Pandey, said that no obstruction or wall should be constructed to block the flow, but that sand mining leaseholders had nonetheless erected four blockades. Pandey, in other words, had confirmed the violations and underlined the need for serving notices to the forest department for removal and dismantling of the barriers. But the notice remained on paper only and was not carried out.
Orders that matter
Two judgements from the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court are significant in this connection. On March 14, 2002, Span Motels was handed an exemplary fine for changing the course of Beas river in Kullu in the state of Himachal Pradesh. While applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle and public trust doctrine, the High Court made the culprits responsible for any damage they caused to the environment.
In the case of sand mining at the Periyar river, the Kerala High Court ruled that the district collector should obtain reports the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies (CESS) or Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) before undertaking any such activity. No vehicle shall be brought to the river bed for the purpose of loading sand and vehicles shall be parked at a minimum distance of 25 metres from the river bank, the court said.
Apart from this, it underlined that authorities shall directly carry out sand mining and not subcontract it. And that 50 per cent of the income generated by the sand miners must go into the River Development Fund for regeneration of natural resources and protection of river banks. It also stipulated that mining should be conducted only after permission from the geology department, following a survey clearly indicating from where and how much quantity could be mined from the rivers.
The Karnataka state government has said that it would take stringent action against those who remove sand from the riverbed. The state mining department has been given the task of monitoring the operations of miners. However, the UP state government remains a mute spectator to the entire affair.
Meanwhile, unabated sand mining continues to cause obstruction and diversion of the river course in Kanpur. This causes drastic changes in riverbed configuration. At stake is the overall ecology of the river, including the aquatic life.
This report was compiled by Eco-Friends Society in Kanpur and edited by www.cleanganga.com.