Crackdown on alleged illegal sand mining last week in Hoshangabad district has opened a Pandora’s box.
Raising various questions with regard to the timing of the crackdown and whether illegal mining of sand can be effectively checked given the porus borders of the mines which keep changing particularly in the rainy season when river tends to change its course often.
Dearth of staff with the mining department, nexus between politicians, miners and the local officials and lack of effective monitoring are some other reasons why illegal sand mining has only flourished despite all the hullabaloo over illegal mining.
Crackdown as the one in Hoshangabad often turns out to be a flash in the pan, hardly sufficient to deter hundreds of people ‘fearlessly’ engaged in illegal mining of sand.
HT travelled to Hoshangabad to understand the ground reality and talk to all the stake holders involved in sand mining in the region.
HT found that there was ambiguity and confusion with regard to the exact boundaries of the sanctioned mining area.
There are no markers or posts or small minarets that could guide the drivers and the labourers where to lift sand.
They have to depend on what the employees of the contractor tell them.
And the issue gets further complicated by the fact that in the rainy season, the river changes its course on the river bed, depositing sand at different points, during monsoon season, scores of times, the sanctioned mining area gets submerged partly or whole of it in the swelled water of the river.
On such occasions, say the district administration officials, the sand is illegally excavated from outside the sanctioned mining area.
District administration officials maintained that this leads to increased cases of the illegal sand mining during rainy season.
Hoshangabad collector Rahul Jain constituted seven teams to conduct surprise inspections into the allegations of illegal sand mining being carried out in the district on the riverbeds of Tawa and Narmada.
And during inspection, the teams seized 38 trucks, 28 of them filled with sand, being illegally ferried from the river bed. District administration alleged that these trucks were lifting sand from outside the sanctioned mining area.
This has opened the Pandora’s box for the administration, which is now fearing that it might emerge as a major political issue, given the seriousness with which Congress has been raising the issue of illegal sand mining, accusing kin of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to be involved in the shady business.
When HT reached Hoshangabad, it found no mining was happening on the riverbed of Narmada, which has swelled considerably due to continued rains. But mining was on full swing on the riverbed of Tawa, where the labourers, wishing not to named, told HT that nearly 1000 to 1200 truckloads of sand was excavated from just one mine on the left side of the Tawa bridge in 24 hours on an average.
When HT went down to the riverbed, it found hundreds of trucks were in action, ferrying sand.
Near the bridge, there were many trucks that were waiting for their turn to excavate sand. Though the district officials said it was a leased sand mine, the labourers working there told HT that they don’t have much knowledge about the boundaries of the sanctioned sand mines.
“Our work is to load sand into the trucks and earn some money. We don’t know much about technical issues”, said a labourer, loading sand into the truck. The question that arises how such a large scale mining can be monitored by the authorities and how the labourers and drivers know about the exact boundaries of the sand mine.
Sand truck owners say they have got sandwiched between contractor and authorities.
The owners of the trucks that have been seized by the district administration are alleging that they have been caught between the contractor and the administration.
When HT went to the office of the Collector Hoshangabad, scores of truck owners had swarmed the premises.
The angry truck owners wanted to get their vehicles released, reasoning that they excavate sand from areas where the contractor tells them and it was not their fault.
They informed that for every cubic metre of sand mined, Rs. 280 is given as royalty.
Of this, Rs. 150 goes to Madhya Pradesh Mining Development Corporation and Rs. 130 goes to the contractor as his commission.
Bhopal Sand Truck Owners Association secretary Vishwabandhu Rawat while talking to HT said, “For last one year, the administration is just punishing us for flimsy reasons but no action is being taken against the contractor who has to actually follow the conditions that are listed in the tender form and guide us about the exact boundary of the mine. Also, the employees of the contractor takes arrangement fee worth crores of rupees from us, but on the ground level, we are left on our own to go to the river bed excavate sand and solve other issues. Even the labourers who dig out sand, sometimes overload the trucks on their own and then take money for it. At times they even misbehave with us , but we have no other option but to get our work done by them”, alleged president Bhopal Sand Truck Owners Association Leela Kishan Thakur.
In the memorandum submitted to the collector, truck owners have even alleged that contractor was flouting the rules. “Under the royalty head, the money we truck owners pay to the contractor, includes VAT.
But the employees of the contractor do not put their seal on the VAT head. This is mandatory,” it alleges.
The crackdown has also started generating some political heat and has the potential to become a thorn for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the election year.
Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh alleged that sand mining was rampant in the state even after the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT’s) ban on the practice without environmental clearance.
On Monday he announced setting up of a twomember party committee to inquire whether 100-odd dumpers seized in connection with illegal sand mining in Hoshangabad district were let off and only about 50 were impounded so as to hide the extent of illegal sand mining on the coast of Narmada.
The Hoshangabad district mining officer SP Patel expressed his helplessness in checking the illegal sand mining across the district, when HT questioned him about it.
“Tell me, I have just one surveyor. And we two cannot go to all the mines to see where illegal mining is happening. Against, two sanctioned posts of mining inspectors, I have none at parent.” There are 31 operational sand mines in the district and in case of 17 mines, sanction would be given after environmental clearance is sought.
On August 5, the NGT banned sand mining across India till environmental clearance was been given for the same.
It said sand mining would be allowed from any river across the country if permission is taken from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.
Earlier plots which were less than 5 hectares did not need any permission for mining.
With the new ruling, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority became the nodal body for clearance. Later on August 16, the Supreme Court asked the NGT to consider within a week the plea of MP government seeking modification of its order putting a blanket ban on sand mining without any license or environmental clearance from river beds across the country.
The appeal filed through the state chief secretary submitted that the NGT’s August 5 order was affecting the construction industry as the district authority which is entitled to permit sand mining in less than 5 hectare of area has been left with no option.