Sand Mafia getting more emboldened as their nexus with politicians getting strengthened
By Rashme Sehgal
Dehradun , Oct 25
The UP cops have acquired a reputation for being trigger happy. But the recent shootout in the village of Bharatpur in Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand where they have reportedly shot Gurpreet Kaur, wife of a local BJP block leader Gurtaj Bhullar, cops from both states, UP and Uttarkhand have hurled accusations at each other. In this melee what has been overlooked is that a sand mining mafia leader Zafar Ali was reportedly hiding in Bhullar’s house or else in that vicinity and could well have taken part in that shootout.
This case once again helps to highlight just how tenacious the links are between the sand mining mafia and the local political class. Every river in the country is under siege. The sand mining mafia blatantly use huge trucks to excavate sand from the river banks and carry it to dumping sites located in our cities. Udham Singh Nagar is no exception. Located on the foothills of the Himalayas, it is strewn with rivers and rivulets which provide a ready source of material for the sand mining mafia. Seven policemen were reportedly injured in this shootout while three are still `missing’.
Without going into the merits and demerits of this case, it must be emphasized that the sand mining mafia has become more emboldened during the last decade and does not hesitate to kill police officers, Indian Forest service officers and also local government functionaries who are seen trying to prevent their operations.
Two months ago,a police DSP Surender Singh Bishnoi was mowed down by a dumper truck during a raid he was conducting to check illegal mining in the Nuh district of Haryana. This was in August 2022. While the Haryana cops claim to have arrested the driver of the dumper truck, no action has been taken against the kingpins of this operation.
A senior Haryana cop on condition of anonymity said, `We know who is heading these operations in our state but our hands are tied.”
The problem is that after the sale of liquor, the easiest and quickest way for politicians to earn a fast buck is from the sale of minerals, boulders and sand. All three are highly lucrative commodities required to feed our real estate and infrastructure industry.
The demand for these commodities is so great that it has fueled a black market and the goons who control this trade do not hesitate to kill law enforcement officers and reporters who have tried to expose them.
So pernicious is their clout and so ineffective is the Minister of Environment and the Ministry of Mines and Minerals that recently the Madhya Pradesh state government has recently come up with an unusual proposal of denotifying 292,39 hectares in the Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary to make it available for ‘legal’ sand mining.
The mining mafiahave one of the bloodiest records amongst criminals in India. According to data collected by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, reveals that 418 people have lost their lives and another 434 have sustained injuries in sand mining related violence and accidents in a period of eighteen months between December 2012 and March 2022.
In March this year, in an even more gory incident in Yamuna Nagar in Haryana, a Road Transport Authority official and a truck driver were burnt to death for having dared expose large scale illegal mining on the banks of the Yamuna. No action has been taken on this case also.
UP has the worst record amongst all our states having witnessed 102 deaths and 90 injuries in cases of both murder and accidents involved in these sand mining operations according to data accessed by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) team.
The mafia are completely lawless and targeted a police team in Agra in 2021 burning down their vehicles and a police check post following the accidental death of a sand tractor driver. In February 2021, members of the Nishad community also indulged in violent protest when they were targeted for their involvement in this `dhanda’.
Bihar has also seen how sand mafia groups have become a law unto themselves. They will not hesitate to attack police personnel and 20 incidents of violent attacks by the sand mafia teams having injured 48 policemen have been recorded in the last eighteen months. Fearing their clout, most police officials now prefer to turn a blind eye to their movement.
Madhya Pradesh is an equally lawless state in this matter.
Morena in Madhya Pradesh witnessed a bizarre incident when Shradha Pandre, a daring woman sub divisional forest officer was attacked by 100 men wearing masks carrying stones and sticks. Pandre was attacked because she seized a tractor carrying sand. This happened in 2021. Fortunately, Pandre managed to survive the attack.
Chambal river is another hot bed of the sand mafia moving around with impunity. But the situation along the Narmada river has crossed all limits. Here goons wielding AK 47 assault rifles are openly seen carrying out sand mining operations. The Narmada river is dotted with several earth movers and JCB machines removing the sand and driving it into the larger cities.
Sand mining constitutes only one mineral loss running into several thousand crores every year. India is presently producing 95 different minerals and the mining industry in India is worth about Rs 3 lakh crore. In the year 2020-21, it was Rs 2,94,644 crore.
Although sand mining is one amongst the several minerals being mined the problem with its mining is that it is affecting the water security of the country.
Manoj Mishra, activist who has spent decades fighting to save the Yamuna observed, `Mining and sand mining in particular, are part of the political economy. These operations are run by local politicians. It allows for low investment at very low risk but gives back very high profits. So everyone has made a beeline for it.’
According to a report by the Union Environment Ministry, between 2013 and 2017, 4,16,000 incidents of illegal mining were reported. According to this, there are 1 lakh incidents of illegal mining in the country every year. Their stats show that every month 8,833, every day 294 and every hour 12 incidents of illegal mining are taking place in some part of the country.
Most of these cases of illegal mining never reach the court or the police. In 2016, 1,07,609 cases of illegal mining were reported. But out of these, FIRs were registered only in 6,033 cases and from these also, the majority will end up getting dismissed. The result is that if members of the police force, forest officers and villagers who take cognizance of these activities end up being threatened or killed due to the open collusion between the government and members of the mafia.
Rampant sand mining has lowered the bed of all our rivers and is affecting their flow. Huge craters have been created in our rivers which can contaminate our river acquifers as has happened with the Yamuna and Hindon rivers in Noida and Greater Noida. Ultimately, our rivers have got affected and this will affect the water security of the country.
(Rashme Sehgal is an author and independent journalist who has worked in several leading papers including the Times of India, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Asian Age.)