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Illegal sand mining Part 3: Bihar govt's attempted crackdown sends prices soaring; officials face axe as rivers in ruin

  • In Bihar, sand is being sold like the precious yellow metal

  • Patna, Saran, Bhojpur, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Banka, Lakhisarai, Gaya, Arwal and West Champaran, among the worst hit districts

  • Sone river has been completely ruined

Editor's note: The issue of illegal sand mining has affected many states in terms of revenue, law and order and environmental hazards. Despite promises by parties and government alike, none of them has succeeded in uprooting the menace. Further, even the media hasn't been spared when covering the matter. In this four-part series, the impact of illegal sand mining in the four states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and Karnataka will be examined. This, part three, deals with Bihar.

Patna: In Bihar, sand is being sold like the precious yellow metal. While gold has almost had a fixed market price since the 2008 global economic meltdown, sand in Bihar is being sold at a premium, which has reached as high as Rs 15,000 to Rs 18,000 per truck load after the state government attempted to crackdown on illegal traders over the past two years.  This illegal trade is lucrative for the mafia, who operate in connivance with politicians, police and officials of mines and geology department.

 Illegal sand mining Part 3: Bihar govts attempted crackdown sends prices soaring; officials face axe as rivers in ruin

Illegal sand mining at Sone river in Rohtas district. Image courtesy: Sanjay Kumar Choudhary

A syndicate of sand smugglers is active in at least a dozen districts of Bihar, including Patna, Saran, Bhojpur, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Banka, Lakhisarai, Gaya, Arwal and West Champaran, among the worst hit. Illegal sand mining across rivers of Bihar has led the state government to incur losses running up to Rs 600 to Rs 700 crore every year, according to officials of the department.

The mines and geology department in Bihar has, since July 2017, had 11 employees dismissed from service and 22 others put under suspension for their purported involvement in illegal sand mining. In addition, pension of three retired employees has been stopped for their alleged nexus with sand mafia. Transfers of sincere administrative officers cracking down on the sand mining mafia has been a regular affair across districts.

Sky-high price, but state sees loss

While the mines and geology department levies a meager Rs 400 as tax per 100 cubic feet of sand, apart from the Rs 100 per 100 cubic feet levied as loading charge (which goes to contractors) and Rs 20 per 100 cubic feet as Value Added Tax (VAT), private dealers said sand is being sold between Rs 6,000 to 8,000 for 100 cubic feet.

Which makes a truckload (which amounts to 200 cubic feet in case of a tractor trolley and 400 cubic feet in a truck, which are both used for transporting the minor mineral, worth between Rs 12,000 and Rs 24,000. Even if a truck carries 400 cubic feet, a truck load of sand would cost the contractor not more than Rs 2,080, including Rs 1,600 as tax to the department, Rs 400 as loading charge and Rs 80 for VAT. The market price varies according to the distance sand is ferried. The loading contractors never sell the consignment at the riverbed, rather they prefer a stockyard.

Bihar has, over the past three years, failed to meet its target in terms of revenue collected from the sale of sand. Against a target of Rs 1,000 crore as revenue from sale of sand set in 2015-16, the state government collected Rs 971 crore (97.10 percent of target). In 2016-17, they collected Rs 994 crore against target of Rs 1,100 crore (90.37 percent) and while the target in 2017-18 went up to Rs 1,350 crore, the department could fetch only Rs 1,082 crore (80.20 percent).

The rising gap between the target and collected revenue is attributed to the ban on sand mining in the wake of instructions issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to issue mining leases of minor minerals only after getting environmental clearances by ministry of environment and forests. The crackdown on illegal business of sand and its resulting scarcity has largely affected construction work, rendering hundreds of daily wage workers jobless. Private sand dealers said that before July 2017, sand was available in the market for Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per 100 cubic feet.

“The rates have fallen after the state government launched crackdown on illegal mining ghats and those involved in the lucrative business. The department officials are monitoring the prices,” claimed Bihar minister for mines and geology Vinod Kumar Singh.

Officials face axe

IAS officer KK Pathak, a 'no nonsense' administrator appointed in 2016 to check illegal mining as principal secretary, mining and geology department, had a short stint as the government allegedly removed him under pressure. Minister Singh, however, believes the government is “serious about illegal mining of sand” and “strict rules are on the cards to curb activities of sand smugglers”. Another case where an official acting against sand mafia had to face the axe was that of Deepak Anand, who during his tenure as Saran district magistrate sent a detailed report to the Bihar government on the alleged involvement of some bigwigs, including then Saran superintendent of police Pankaj Kumar Raj, in the illegal trade of sand.

A couple of months later, Bihar police’s anti-corruption wing raided Anand's official residence in Patna and native place in Sitamarhi, and lodged a disproportionate assets case against the young IAS officer. However, no action was initiated against the IPS officer in question, Raj, who was said to be close to Muneshwar Choudhary, the then mining and geology minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet. “If an IAS officer is not spared, then who will dare to take action against the syndicate of sand smugglers?” asked an official with the mines and geology department, speaking on the case of anonymity.

Anand, a 2007- batch IAS officer, unearthed a sand smuggling racket, and in 2017, impounded over 200 sand-laden trucks on Doriganj-Chhapra road under the jurisdiction of Mufassil Police Station in Saran district. The sand was being transported from Chirand stockyard. In his report submitted to the government, Anand claimed that most truck drivers alleged that the money collected from truck operators went to the district police chief Raj, a charge the latter denied. Anand also recommended a high-level probe into the sand mafia-police nexus in the district. "The government knows everything," Anand said.

Environmental impact

In Saran district, Chirand village, situated on the confluence of Ganga and Saryu rivers, is the favourite of smugglers, because it also connects to the National Highway-19. Sand mined from the nearby Sone river in Patna and Bhojpur districts is shipped to Chirand in boats to be smuggled to north Bihar and neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh. According to locals, around 90 percent of population in Chirand village are engaged in sand smuggling.

Noted environmentalist Ashok Ghosh said illegal sand mining also causes erosion, leading to shifting of villages on river banks. “There have been instances where rivers changed their course due to illegal sand mining. The government should ensure that guidelines issued by the NGT are implemented in toto.” An example of such ecological imbalance was witnessed in West Champaran district, when several villages were washed away due to flash floods, an unnatural phenomena in the region bordering Nepal, caused by illegal mining in Kataiya river.

Sone river has been completely ruined with heavy machines digging up its banks right from Koelwar in Bhojpur to Arwal, Aurangabad and Rohtas in south central Bihar. On 30 December, 2018, Patna district authorities issued a show cause notice to Broadson Commodities Pvt. Ltd for damaging the Sone canal under Paliganj subdivision to pave way for transportation of sand from the ghat.

Sand mined from the Sone in Rohtas, Aurangabad and Bhojpur is smuggled to Uttar Pradesh. Assistant manager at an integrated check post at Mohania in Kaimur district, Nishant Singh, said that on an average 1,475 overloaded trucks carrying sand cross the check post everyday. However, only 15 to 20 such vehicles were impounded, he added.

The state government deployed five officials of transport and mines and geology department to check overloaded trucks on the 70-kilometre long stretch of the NH-2. “Their negligence is causing a huge loss to the exchequer every day,” Singh said. An e-challan process to check irregularities in issuance of fake receipts to truck drivers has also been planned.

While the state government, after a previous NGT ruling suspending mining activities ended on 30 September, introduced new Bihar Minor Mineral Rules through which it wanted to clear mining activity across 10 districts, the Patna High Court in November 2018 stayed any amendment to mining laws.

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

Read part 1 of the series here

Read part 2 of the series here

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Updated Date: Feb 02, 2019 19:49:24 IST