Illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh: Mafia takes to Narmada river to evade police as politicos play blame game

Bhopal: The modus operandi of the sand mining mafia in Madhya Pradesh resembles a Bollywood action flick: The police is busy scanning roads in siren-blaring jeeps while the smugglers escape unchallenged over water.

In a new trend that is visible on the banks of the Narmada river, the largest in the state, the sand mafia is using jetties and boats to not just extract sand, but also transport it across districts. The new water transport route has become a convenient alternative to road transport that is often dangerous and expensive.

In the illegal sand mining industry, poor workers risk their lives every day. Short of safety equipment, all they possess is the experience gathered over the years. The stretch of the Narmada river passing through Dhar, Harda, Dewas, Sehore, and Narsinghpur district is witness to this new method that is far away from any policing or gang conflict.

The mining continues day and night: Jetties assist the sand mining activity in the middle of the water body. After extraction, the sand is then pumped into the boat and transported to collection centres.

Illegal sand mining in Madhya Pradesh: Mafia takes to Narmada river to evade police as politicos play blame game

The Chhipaner bank of Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh's Harda district. Image courtesy: Abhishek Dubey

Police unquipped for a river chase

At these collection spots, which may even be inter-district borders, tractors ferry the sand to godowns, markets or even directly to construction sites. In case the authorities spot them, they divert the boat towards the other side of the river. Police can’t give chase because they neither have the boats nor the training to handle the turbulent waters of the Narmada.

A visit to the Narmada bank in Harda district in the wee hours revealed the mining process. After choosing the spot, labourers lower the pump for extraction. Those who cannot afford the pump, do it manually and rely on their swimming skills.

Usually, a single boat consists of five labourers who take around three hours to fill the boat. Each labourer makes about Rs 700 a day. The Harda district administration led by Collector S Vishwanathan formed special teams to check the illegal sand mining in the district last month, but all they could do was to put nakas (checkposts) on major roads. A few dozen trucks laden with sand were even seized, but the extraction did not stop. Huge heaps of sand are still visible for kilometres in the areas of Khedinima and Manoharpur. The seized sand creates another problem for the administration as they don’t have space to store it and also creates a traffic snarl.

The inaction of successive governments

Both the Congress and the BJP have seemingly buried their heads. The Congress accused the BJP of inaction during its 15 years of rule between 2003 and 2018. But the Congress, after returning to power in the state, also seems to be struggling to cope with this problem. Recently, in Chhatarpur district, from where the Narmada river also passes, a former BJP MLA and a sitting Congress MLA locked horns over their followers purportedly indulging in sand mining.

In a report tabled before the Assembly last month, the state government admitted that over 200 complaints of illegal mining in the Narmada river were registered during the past five years. However, the action was limited only to seizing of vehicles. In Jabalpur district, 123 complaints were registered, but only one vehicle was seized in between 2014 and 2018.

The Assembly document also revealed that in many cases, a penalty was imposed on violators under the provisions of the Mining Act, but it could not be recovered. In Narsinghpur district, a mining contractor found violating mining limits was fined about Rs 50 lakh, but not a penny was recovered. Similar penalties amounting to Rs 3.5 crore have not been recovered from violators. Most cases have been pending before the district magistrate for years.

A total of 42,152 cases of illegal mining for major and minor minerals were registered in the state from 2009 to 2015. Journalists and officers have been killed while trying to curb it. In the last incident, which took place in September 2017, deputy forest ranger Subedar Singh Kushwaha was crushed to death in Bhind district while trying to stop a truck laden with illegal sand.

Environmental activist Vinayak Parihar said, “Illegal mining cannot happen without political patronage. In my hometown of Narsinghpur, the situation is similar. Earlier, it was the BJP and now after the Congress has come to power, both are fighting over illegal mining in the Narmada.”

State mining resources minister Pradip Jaiswal blamed the erstwhile BJP government. “We are coming up with a new mining policy after Lok Sabha elections that will put an end to it,” he promised.

The author is Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2019 15:58:46 IST

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