The Betwa river, considered the lifeline of Bundelkhand, is dying a slow death these days as the sand mafia has plundered it in the region where the illegal sand mining business is worth Rs 10,000 crore per annum.
The perennial river that flows from the Vindhyan range was once the home of a variety of aquatic fauna.
Agriculture and fishing culture flourished in its river basin area.
Now, the 358-kilometre stretch of the river flowing through Lalitpur, Jhansi, Jalaun and Hamirpur is fast turning into a barren area as earthmovers extract sand from the riverbed.
Septuagenarian Bharat Dharaupur, a native of Jalalpur village, says a decade back the Betwa was the home of crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins and otters, but now these species are hardly seen in the area.
“I last saw a gharial two years back,” he says and blames the rampant sand mining for the extinction of the crocodile and the dolphin here. It’s the quality of the sand that is drawing the sand mafia from various corners of UP to Betwa, says Suraj Bundela, a resident of Lalitpur.
The Betwa carries heavy granules that are useful in building as well as road construction.
It is because of their high value that there have been clashes between the mafia supported by the politicians to grab mining contracts, he says.
The sand of the Ganga and the Yamuna is light in comparison.
Trucks and machines are a common sight as one moves along the riverbank in Lalitpur, Jhansi, Jalaun and Hamirpur.
Every day, 500 trucks load sand from the river near Sarila village alone and one can well understand the magnitude of plunder in the area, says KP Singh a resident of Orai. Large tracts of farmland along the river are fast turning infertile as winds dump sand on the fields, he adds.
The sand mafia have developed specially-designed sand extractors that are installed on boats. The boats dump the sand on the bank for drying and later it is loaded onto the trucks and tractortrolleys that move to makeshift godowns.
The sand mafia has constructed temporary bridges to connect both the banks of the river for the movement of trucks and machines to transport the sand to various destinations.
Little wonder, the area, which was once dotted with the hamlets of Nishads (fishermen), now wears a deserted look as the men have migrated to cities in search of petty jobs.