Around 4,500 persons engaged in the extraction of minor minerals such as sand, stones and pebbles from the Teesta have become jobless in Jalpaiguri district ahead of the festive season as a ripple effect of the October 4 flash flood in Sikkim.
Indian Army personnel on Sunday work to reconnect North Sikkim through a Bailey bridge after the flood PTI image
As the flood swept away firearms, ammunition and explosives of the Indian Army from the upper reaches of Sikkim, a number of them were recovered from the river’s downstream in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. The army defused a number of such items but are still continuing their search. To prevent any casualty or injury, the mining of sand and other minor minerals has been stopped at the Teesta.
In Jalpaiguri, sources said, permission has been granted to draw minor minerals from 82 locations of 15 rivers. “But for the Teesta, permission will be granted in due course,” said a source.
An official of Jalpaiguri district administration, explaining the reason for stopping the extraction of minor minerals, said: "A number of items such mortar shells, mine detonators and other explosives had been defused. But more may be present in the river, which is a risk."
In Jalpaiguri district, 1,200 trucks carry the minor minerals from the Teesta riverbed every day. Usually, four workers work per truck to load and unload the items.
“The monsoon is over and the water levels are quite low in the Teesta these days. Usually, we start mining from September-end but this time because of the flash flood, the administration has not granted permission so far. Just like the workers, the earnings of truck owners have stopped. However, we have to pay our drivers their salaries. We hope the administration lets us draw sand and stones after Durga Puja,” said Sanjib Ghosh, the secretary of the Jalpaiguri District United Truck Owners’ Association.
After the flash flood, a section of residents dwelling on both banks of the river had taken away mortar shells and similar items. In Kranti block of the district, a minor boy died and his father and six others got injured in an explosion when the boy's father tried to break open a mortar shell. A couple of days back, a farmer in Kranti got injured as a mine detonator, which had flown into his field along the river bank, exploded.
“The army is continuing with its search with district police and the state fire services department. It engaged equipment to find such items. The river deposited heavy silt which it carried downstream. We have no inkling as to what is there in the debris. In case workers start drawing sand and stones, there is a risk of similar blasts, loss of life and limb. That is why mining has been stopped,” the official said.