Nod to mining in Chambal sanctuary raises concerns
Environmentalists are worried that it will regularise illegal sand mining happening within the sanctuary unabated for the past many years and provide incentive to for more illegal mining
New Delhi: The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has allowed sand mining in a swathe of the National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena district, effectively legalising rampant illegal sand mining in one of India’s most pristine reserves.
The committee has recommended exclusion of 207.05 hectares from the sanctuary , a move that will allow sand mining in this area. The Gwalior bench of Madhya Pradesh high court banned sand mining in 2006 to protect gharials, Indian skimmers and other animal species that make the sanctuary their home.
While the quantum of land being notified is just around half a percent of the total size of the sanctuary, environmentalists are worried that it will regularise illegal sand mining happening within the sanctuary unabated for the past many years and provide incentive to for more illegal mining, environmentalists said. They add that due to the deep entrenched nexus between illegal sand miners and officials, it would be difficult to prevent illegal sand mining in the new prohibited areas.
There have been several media reports from Chambal showing hundreds of tractors mining sand with JCB machines at Rajghat, once egg-laying ground for turtles and gharials, on the banks of the Chambal river, which is the ountry’s large home for gharials. The sanctuary also has crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, soft shelled turtles, hyenas, jackals, several species of deer, and hundreds of species of birds, including the Indian skimmer.
In March, the Madhya Pradesh government proposed denotification of 292.39 ha of sanctuary land across Bhind, Morena and Sheopur saying it may help “curbing illegal sand mining” in the sanctuary and make sand available for local people.
The standing committee in its 67th meeting on March 25 decided that this proposal of worthy enough to be evaluated by a committee comprising former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) HS Singh and the Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority .
The committee in the minutes of its 69th meeting published on Tuesday said NTCA’s report was received and that based on it, the standing committee has recommended that 207.05 ha of the sanctuary can be de-notified for sand mining with several conditions.
The decision said the administration should ensure that mining related activities is not done in the so-called water zone or sand bars in the river; that sand-transport, storage and marketing should be done under well-established administrative, monitoring and regulatory system; and that a new Sand Mining Corporation or a branch of existing Madhya Pradesh Mining Corporation Ltd should be established in the region to plug possible illegal sanding mining activities. “Technology must be used to monitor and control illegal mining like barcoding of each transit permit, barcoding of royalty receipts, IT enabled weighing balance at exit points; geo-tagged demarcation of mining leases, electronic surveillance and GPS fitted tractors/trucks involved in transporting,” the committee added.
Manoj Misra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, said the Wildlife Protection Act does not permit denotification of sanctuaries and only allows redefining which means whatever area is de-notified will have to be restored elsewhere. “To say allowing legal sand mining will help stop illegal mining is a very tall order. It may not. Illegal mining happens at night and it needs to be seen how that will be regulated. If the areas to be de-notified are in the edge of the sanctuary where gharials or turtles do not nest it may work to an extent,” he said.
“It (denotification) is like saying, you can’t stop theft, legalise it,” said Bhopal based wildlife expert, Sudhir Sapra. “The decision will only destroy the sanctuary. When mining was banned, people were excavating sand and all agencies failed to prevent it. Now how will they control when a part it will get legalized?” he asked.
Other environmental experts said the decision could further deteriorate ecology of the sanctuary with sand banks of river Chambal already severely deformed because of illegal sand mining. “The pristine sand banks served as safe refuse to critically endangered gharial, Indian skimmer, roofed turtle and host of other threatened species and now they are being destroyed by convoys of tractor-trolleys in presence of forest and police officials from Madhya Pradesh,” said Sahil Zutshi, an environmental expert who has worked in Chambal sanctuary extensively.
Recent studies have shown that due to illegal sand mining gharials and other aquatic animals have migrated to safer Kuno, Parbati and other tributaries of Chambal rivers in search of safer egg laying habitats. R K Sharma, an expert of Chambal ecological system, wanted to know how the government will stop movement of aquatic animals at these five sites. He added that population of dolphins and gharials are either decreasing or static as government has done nothing to save them.
Two rivers, Parvati river in Sheopur district and Chambal river in Sheopur, Morena and Bhind districts covering a length of 435 km come under the Sanctuary. Although no sand mining is approved in Sheopur and Morena in the sanctuary area, there have been reports of widespread illegal sand mining there. The state government has blamed local villagers for it.
“The problem of illegal sand mining from the sanctuary area continues due to absence of legal sand mining in Chambal river after 2006. The business of illegal sand mining has become a major business for the local people. This also results in loss of royalty to the government. At present, illegal quarrying is being done due to non-availability of sand for increasing infrastructure development works and to meet the bona fide requirement of the local people,” the state government argued in its proposal.
In the proposal, MP government said the sanctuary areas, where mining is prohibited, the protection of aquatic life etc. will be by the Forest Department, and done in a scientific way. A retired MP forest official, who asked not to be named said this is unlikely as 50% of the posts in sanctuary are lying vacant for years. “Many of the forest officials there are not even trained to deal with the river aquatic system. They are more equipped to deal with illegal sand miners.”
Retired forest officer Harimohan Meena, who sent the proposal of denotification a year ago, said: “We conducted a survey and found these sites were perfect for mining as there is very little movement of aquatic animals and these are not nesting sites. Even the mining mafia was active in these areas only. These legal sites will fulfill the demand, so definitely it will put a check on illegal mining.”
(With inputs from Shruti Tomar in Bhopal)