A thriving sand mafia in the national capital region does not want the Yamuna to get in the way of a multi-crore trade.
Authorities in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district caught about 30 labourers this week who were busy building a temporary bridge across the river to ferry sand being mined illegally in the area.
A third of the 300-metre-long structure had been constructed near Noida’s Chak Basantpur village for trucks and dumpers carrying the coveted natural resource, while the administration seized around 6,000 sandbags, several concrete pipes and an excavator.
Sand is precious to the real estate industry and the mafia is known to ravage riverbeds and land with heavy equipment to dredge up tonnes of earth and sell it at steep discounts to builders, shaving lakhs of rupees off construction costs.
Sources say the entire Gautam Budh Nagar region has become a safe haven for the sand syndicate with rampant illegal mining along the floodplains of the Yamuna and Hindon rivers.
A young IAS officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal, took on the powerful mafia in Noida but was suspended in July 2013, just months into her assignment. The move had prompted opposition parties to accuse UP’s Samajwadi Party government of acting under the mafia’s pressure.
According to officials, 300 truckloads of sand is mined daily from the Yamuna’s banks in Noida with the business raking in nearly Rs 50 lakh every day.
Following Wednesday night’s arrests, authorities lodged an FIR in Noida against Faridabad resident Dinesh Tyagi for damaging ecology and public property through the illegal act of building a bridge that blocked the natural flow of the river.
A police sub-inspector, a constable and a Lekhpal, or a district administration official, were suspended while the partially-constructed structure was torn down.
“The bridge was being built for the last 10 days,” said NP Singh, district magistrate of Gautam Budh Nagar. “Sand mafia from neighbouring Faridabad was building this bridge to mine sand from the Noida floodplains and transport it to Haryana. We got information from Noida’s farmers about an illegal bridge being constructed.”
Officials said the firms involved sell plots on the Yamuna’s coastal plains in Noida as well as Faridabad and develop luxurious farmhouses on demand.
HT tried to reach Tyagi, but his mobile phone was switched off.
Despite a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order two years ago restraining all sand mining activities without environmental clearance, illegal quarrying continues unabated along rivers with mighty water bodies like the Ganga and Yamuna dying a slow death.
The sand lobby saw an opportunity to build the bridge when local police were deployed in large numbers near Bisada village where a mob lynched a Muslim man last month over cow-slaughter rumours, sparking sectarian concerns.
Gautam Budh Nagar authorities said the mafia constructed another 300-metre-long bridge near Dadasiya village in Faridabad.
“I have written to the UP irrigation department about this illegal bridge,” said NP Singh. “They will write to their Haryana counterparts to dismantle this bridge. We cannot do it because it is out of our jurisdiction.”