An excavation machine is furiously dredging sand from a stretch of the Ken river bed flowing through Kartal village in Banda, Uttar Pradesh. A short distance away , rows of trucks are lined up to ferry away the sand to towns and cities of the state for use in construction.
This is a routine sight on the stretch of Ken, flowing through Banda district bordering Madhya Pradesh. Despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banning unauthorised sand mining in the Bundelkhand region way back in 2013, sand stealing has continued unabated.
“We have informed the district administration several times that illegal mining has not stopped. It is damaging the river and putting the region at grave environment at risk. But our plea has fallen on deaf ears,” said Brijmohan Yadav, a local who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the case before NGT in 2013.
Yadav said that the district magistrates of Banda (UP) and Chhattarpur (Madhya Pradesh) have failed to comply with NGT’s order despite giving an undertaking that sand mining will not be allowed in the area. Taking note of Yadav’s plea, a bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar had in January issued notices to the Union environment ministry and the UP government seeking reply in two weeks. The case is coming up before NGT on March 7.
It is not that the Banda district administration is oblivious to the large scale sand stealing going on. The then Banda superintendent of police, RP Pandey, had last October written to the district magistrate that heavy excavation equipments are being used to dredge sand, which is changing the natural course of the river. Pandey had further said that the heavy trucks plying in the area has damaged the district’s roads and are also evading paying state tax.
Saroj Kumar, Banda district magistrate told HT, “The stretch of Ken that passes through Banda is 50 to 60 kilometre long. We are aware that sand stealing is going on but because of resource crunch it is not possible for us to maintain round-the-clock vigil. Our mining department is short staffed. Because of elections the security staff also has their hands full…despite this as and when we receive complaints action is taken.”
The villagers, however, allege that the district administration is fully in the know but has deliberately turned a blind eye. “We grow crop near the river, which has been destroyed so many times by trucks ferrying sand from the river. We have complained so many times but no action has been taken. The authorities are hand in glove with the miners,” said Vijay Lal, a resident of Kartal.
“Last September, several villages, which hardly receive any rain, were badly affected by floods. The mining will not only affect the river hydrology but disturb the aquatic life also,” said Rahul Choudhary, environmental lawyer who is representing Yadav in NGT.
According to Choudhary, such kind of large-scale illegal mining can’t go on without the support from administration. “There is lot of political pressure that prevents the district authorities from taking strong action,” he added.