Sand lifters swamp Gandhi Ghat of Subernarekha in Sakchi, Jamshedpur, on Tuesday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
In a classic case of cocking a snook at Jharkhand’s flawed law machinery, sand mining continues unabated on the banks of Subernarekha in Jamshedpur, barely a kilometre from the East Singhbhum district collectorate.
Around noon on Tuesday, around a dozen commercial vehicles were spotted maiming the riverbed near Gandhi Ghat in Sakchi without the slightest apprehension of administrative action. And, this despite the National Green Tribunal’s ban on sand mining without environmental clearance on August 5, 2013, which reaffirmed a Supreme Court order against pilfering of minor minerals.
“Yahan se balu lekar Baradwari jana hai; wahan par bada kam ho raha hai. Kanuni hai ya gairkanuni hum ko matlab nahin. Bahut din se yahan se balu lekar ja rahe hai. Jo hoga dekha jayega (We are lifting sand for a big construction project in Baradwari. Who cares if it is legal or illegal; we have been doing this for ages. Let’s see what can happen to us),” said Sanjay Sandil, the driver of a truck engaging in the illegal act.
Another trucker boasted of their authority, stating that no less than 70 vehicles carried sand from this ghat to construction sites across the steel city every day, and there was no one to stop them.
A local resident, attending the funeral of a relative, said the spate of illegal mining increased during monsoon when pilferage was less apparent. “Earlier, the sand mafia used smaller pick-up vans and tractors to avoid easy detection, but nowadays they come with big trucks, perhaps emboldened by the lack of action,” he rued.
Expressing concern over this rampant mining of sand, environmentalist K.K. Sharma said the illegal activity created large pits and fissures on the earth’s surface. At times, mining can extend so deep that it affects groundwater, springs, underground wells and the water table.
“Sand acts as an aquifer, a natural carpet at the bottom of a river. Stripping this layer leads to downstream erosion, causing changes in channel bed and habitat type, as well as deepening of a river and enlargement of its mouth. As the rivers deepen, groundwater is affected, leading to water woes and livelihood issues for farmers,” he explained.
The powers that be preferred to play pass the buck.
District mining officer Ratnesh Kumar Singh, who is also in charge of neighbouring Seraikela-Kharsawan, said sand ghats in the city had been auctioned last year for Rs 7 crore.
“It was only after completion of the auction process that the tribunal order came, making environmental clearance mandatory for sand mining. We have already collected revenue. Hence, it is the onus of the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) to ensure that those lifting sand have the necessary clearance,” Singh said.
JSPCB regional officer R.N. Choudhary claimed that they had sought a list of agencies who have got permission for mining during the auction. “Only after receiving the same can we act against violators,” he said.
East Singhbhum deputy commissioner Amitabh Kaushal promised to check whether agencies mining sand at Subernarekha had environmental clearance. “I will personally look into the matter and initiate action against those flouting the law,” he said.