The Birbhum administration has dug a 1km-long trench to stop illegal sand lifting from the Brahmani river after it failed to halt the practice within 2km of a barrage at Baidhora village in Nalhati.
Irrigation department officials said such a ditch was known as Elephant Proof Trench (EPT) as it was used to stop the animal’s entry.
“In Birbhum, the EPT is being used to prevent illegal sand mining and possible damage to the barrage,” said an official.
Over 3,000 saplings have also been planted along the riverbed for the same purpose.
The district administration said the same method could be applied to stop illegal sand lifting near other barrages.
Sources said the irrigation barrage near the Baidhora faced a threat in the wake of rampant lifting of sand. According to government rules, extracting sand within 2km of the riverbed is strictly prohibited.
In February 2017, the irrigation department had lodged a complaint with both Rampurhat and Nalhati police stations, seeking steps against illegal sand lifting. The mining was damaging construction of the barrage and became threat for it. Cultivation on over one lakh acres of land in four Birbhum blocks are dependent on the water from the barrage.
“We raided the area several times to stop illegal sand mining near the barrage, but we failed to curb the menace. We seized equipment such as pump sets, but the practice has not stopped,” said an official.
“A few months ago, illegal sand traders also attacked our officials who went to raid the area. The rampant illegal sand mining – something chief minister Mamata Banerjee has strictly ordered us to crack down on – has become a nightmare for us,” he added.
The local authorities, headed by Nalhati I block development officer, under which the barrage falls, took the decision to dig the trench and plant trees along the riverbed. The trench is over 5ft deep and flooded with river water.
“At first, we had planted the trees. Then, we dug the trench,” said block development officer Jagadish Chandra Barui.
“If vehicles can’t access the riverbed, then the sand mining operation cannot be carried out. After the trench, illegal sand mining has stopped near the barrage,” he said.
Besides, said Barui, the administration is setting up a new park and a guesthouse near the barrage to attract tourism.
There are major barrages on the Mayurakshi river in Suri’s Tilpara and the Dwarka in Mohammedbazar’s Deocha.
“It is a nice idea by the block administration in Nalhati. We might implement it for other barrages in the district,” said Purnendu Maji, additional district magistrate (land and land reforms), who looks after sand mines in district.