The eroded Batha river. Picture by Kishore Talukdar
Borjhar, Nov. 11: Residents of about 20 villages along the Assam-Meghalaya border have pledged to protect the Batha river from a menace - mechanised mining.
The residents, who are members of the Batha Nodi Xongrokhyon Xomiti (Batha River Protection Samiti), have put up signs near the river asking miners to refrain from using suction machines to extract sand from the riverbed.
The water level of the river has fallen substantially following rampant extraction of sand by suction machines, which is illegal. Sources in the forest division said, according to the Environment Impact Assessment Authority, "sand has to be extracted manually".
The Batha is considered a lifeline for over 50,000 farmers. The Samiti members said the farmlands near the river have been affected as the ground water level has receded.
The Union ministry has classified sand as a minor mineral under Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.
People had warned the miners several times not to resort to mechanised mining earlier but to no avail.
Farmers of the area are now insecure as the activity is threatening their livelihoods. "We are against mechanised mining that is turning the river into a zone of despair for farmers and manual miners," a farmer said.
"Our farmlands have been affected as the ground water level has receded. If mechanised mining is not stopped, we will file a written complaint to Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said.
Erosion, too, has occurred at several stretches of the river. Sources said the vibration caused by the suction machines had triggered landslides in the past following erosion of soil from the bank.
Growing demand for construction material has prompted miners to extract sand from deposit zones along the riverbed. More sand can be extracted in less time by suction machines.
The sources said 20 cubic metres of sand could be extracted within eight hours from the river by a suction machine by two persons while six miners can extract only 10 cubic metres of sand in eight hours manually.
There are four officially permitted sand mahals (stretch from where sand is legally lifted) along the Batha.
Divisional forest officer of Kamrup west forest division, B.C. Das, said currently two mining units were operational.
But illegal sand mining prevails in other sand accumulation zones along the river. "On the basis of public complaints against mechanised sand mining, the department had seized six suction machines recently," Das said.
Residents of the area have put the blame on the authorities of Loharghat forest range, which according to them has been only a "silent spectator" despite rampant sand extraction through machines. "I have served several notices to Loharghat range officer K.K. Deka in this regard. He has failed to submit the report on the actions taken," Das said.
Deka, when contacted, said, "I have lodged a complaint against illegal mining at Palasbari police station."