The three-month-long election process in Uttarakhand seems to have given illegal miners a permit to ravage the Ganga as well as its tributaries. With hundreds of trucks visiting it everyday, whole stretches of the river now stand devoid of sand and stone.
Hindustan Times visited four major tributaries of the Ganga — Pilee Nadhi, Barasati Nallah, Rawasan river and Kotawali river — on the Haridwar-Nijababad highway, only to find that they had been mercilessly targeted by illegal miners.
Hundreds of labourers could be seen filling trucks, lined up to transport a mix of sand and stone from the shallow riverbed. “Most tributaries of the Ganga are drying because of construction of dams, and destruction of the ecology, in upstream areas,” said Ravi Chopra, director of the Dehradun-based People’s Science Institute and member of the Prime Minister-headed National Ganga Basin River Authority (NBGRA).
Once the trucks were filled, they would be driven to a parking lot on the riverbed. According to local residents, most of these trucks leave at night, when chances of being caught are slim.
Though miners are officially permitted to dig up to a metre of the riverbed, sand and stone up to five metres were found to have been cleared from the Ganga as well as its tributaries.
The politics behind the illegal mining in the Ganga runs deep and, at times, acts of defiance prove costly. Last year, Swami Nigamananda – who had taken up a fast unto death to condemn the illegal practice – was allegedly poisoned to death at his ashram in Haridwar. More recently, on Monday, the government had to air-lift former IIT professor G D Aggarwal from Varanasi, where he had launched a fast on March 6 to save the river.
Chopra, who had resigned from the NGBRA along with two non-official members, accuses the government of not being serious about saving the river. “The authority has turned into fund-doling arm for state governments in order to build treatment plants. Nothing has been done to ensure that even minimal quantity of water flows to support Ganga’s unique bio-diversity,” he said. Their resignations are yet to be accepted.
According to information provided to Parliament, the fine collected from illegal miners of minor minerals was R115 crore in 2010-11, as compared to just R84 crore for major minerals. Around 4,640 cases of illegal mining have been detected in Uttarakhand.
Anna’s dam demand
Anti-graft activist Anna Hazare on Thursday told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to immediately convene a meeting of the Ganga Basin Authority, and stop construction of dams on the Ganga till a decision is taken by the body.
Ahead of his day-long fast at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, on Sunday, Hazare expressed solidarity with GD Aggarwal, who has been on an indefinite fast to demand a meeting of the Authority, headed by the Prime Minister.