Illegal sand mining Part 4: Karnataka continues to bear brunt of resurgent mafia, ever-changing rules

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 Karntaka will be examined. This, part four, deals with Karnataka.

Mangaluru: After the great mining heist of 2008-13 in Karnataka, the mining for iron ore has attracted a tag of notoriety: heads rolled, the government fell, and a long tussle between the legislature and executive ensued, sending the state into a tailspin. In the din, not many noticed the emergence of a sand mining lobby, stronger and more widespread than the ore one.

Though former chief minister Siddaramaiah unveiled a new sand mining policy in 2014 which gave more power to district-level officials to curb illegal activities, legal miners remain on tenterhooks while illegal ones gained the upper hand courtesy ‘protection’ from political bosses.

As per the policy…

All three coastal districts — Udupi, Dakshina and Uttara Kannada — have their own committees that allow only manual mining in non-Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas. The National Green Tribunal and the environment ministry banned sand mining around 500 metres of a high tide area across the 302-kilometre Karnataka coast. The committees, however, can permit, under government supervision, the Mines and Geology Department to allow only manual mining from 9 am to 5 pm on working days.

Deputy commissioners, who preside over these committees, use their magisterial powers to allot sand bars to local miners after estimating the need for construction activities, including government projects and civic works. All three committees have taken steps to stop transportation of sand outside their districts.

Sand on the banks of Gurupur river. Image courtesy: M Raghuram

Sand on the banks of Gurupur river. Image courtesy: M Raghuram

AB Ibrahim, former deputy commissioner of Dakshina Kannada, was the first to bring this order: after mining permit holders complained that illegal miners were smuggling sand outside the districts and even to Kerala, Ibrahim asked the Mines and Geology Department to install CCTVs at main traffic intersections on highways and at state and district borders.

Also, the committee in Dakshina Kannada directed that only 10 licences per month will be issued to manually extract sand per acre in the 232 acres notified for mining in non-CRZ areas. Recently, a bathymetric study was submitted to the government. It established that 40,000 metric tons of sand is available in one district alone. Sasikanth Senthil, Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada, said, “This will help us to tide over sand distribution problems and curb all undesirable practices in the trade.”

Tweaking the process

However, the sand mining rules have undergone a number of changes. The state made major amendments to the Karnataka Minor Mineral Concession (Amendment) Rules, 1994, in 2016 and added a separate chapter detailing the permission for quarrying ordinary sand in riverbed, patta land, removal of sand bars in CRZ areas of coastal districts, and special provisions for production of M-sand as well as for transportation of sand and M-sand.

On 2 March, 2018, the joint secretary, Centre, Niranjan Kumar Singh, released the draft sand mining recommendations. Since then, the tender-cum-forward auction method has been used in Karnataka.

But the political system interfered with that too. “Until 2014, auctioning was done every five years, but that year they amended the rule to make it every three years. The new system did not take into consideration traditional sand miners engaging divers and using roving boats for manual extraction. CRZ and riverine areas are two extraction points; Gurupur, Nethravati, and Shambhavi rivers have more deposits than the others, while the extraction points nearer cities and towns are ideal for traditional sand mining blocks in Jeppu, Padil and Amblamogaru. But having just two categories — CRZ and non-CRZ areas — poses difficulties for traditional sand miners,” said Purushottam Malli, spokesperson of traditional sand miners’ association in Dakshina Kannada.

Larger organisations such as the Dakshina Kannada Sand Miners’ Association, already split in two based on the political parties the members are affiliated with, have a different worry. “The rules are strict, and rightly so. But there is no semblance of justice in bringing the violators to book. According to the 2016 amendment, there is a provision for each licence holder to have three boats; if he has four, he is a criminal; if his trucks take a different route to the delivery point, he is booked. On the other hand, illegal miners are using massive excavators mounted on barges to remove sand and directly load it on trucks that have no GPS. Also, despite the ban on interstate and inter-district transport, sand is transported all over, which has raised the prices,” alleged Mayur Ullal, an association office-bearer.

Miners’ grievances

Sand miners divided on party lines have one common grouse: inconsistent central and state sand extraction rules. “While central rules say no extraction in CRZ areas, state rules have not defined ‘sand dunes’, ‘sand bars’ and ‘underwater sand bars’, and ‘shore-based sand dunes’. Hence, we will get caught no matter what. It seems the governments actually want us to do it illegally,” said Sudheer Tandel, a Kali river basin sand miner of Uttara Kannada district.

According to a sand transporter, they are given a window of two hours to load, travel, unload and return for reloading if the consignment is 35 kilometres, which leaves them with no alternative but to push the vehicles through traffic. An official, however, said unloading off dumper trucks doesn’t take much time, which means the sand contractor makes more than one trip on the same permit within a day, which is illegal. There have been many incidents of speeding sand trucks running pedestrians over: District Crime Record Bureau figures of the three districts show that in the past three years there have been 80 road rage incidents and five deaths. In all cases, FIRs have been filed against the truck owners and drivers.

How illegal mining is pulled off

“Sand miners are very unscrupulous; they may have permission for only 1 cubic metre of sand per day but will excavate 10 to 20 times more. Many among both legal and illegal miners do not abide by rules,” alleged National Environmental Care Foundation (NECF) activist Shashidhar Shetty.

The Mines and Geology Department norms allow only three-metre boats for sand extraction, but miners use 12-metre metal vessels that can carry two tons of sand. Many trucks that transport sand to interior areas are not fitted with GPS and hoodwink the authorities.  There are 19 legal sand extraction blocks in Dakshina Kannada district along major rivers. But illegal miners head to uncharted ones for hassle-free smuggling. Sand contractor Rohit Shetty of Buntwal said illegal miners transport sand to Kerala, Bengaluru, Mysuru and Hassan, where it is sold for Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh a load (two units equivalent to 12 tons).

“It’s anybody’s guess where all the excess money goes. Political parties and bureaucrats are the main beneficiaries,” Shetty alleged. The NECF has estimated that Dakshina Kannada exported sand valued at Rs 800 crore, Udupi at Rs 620 crore, and Uttara Kannada at Rs 570 crore.

The mafia menace

In 2016, sand smugglers used railway wagons, saying the sand was for highway work; but the Mines and Geology Department managed to stop and seize the wagons at Buntwal station. The smugglers then tried using concrete readymix trucks for transporting sand to Kerala, but the district administration immediately asked checkpost officials to manually inspect loads. In January 2017, an official of the Mines and Geology Department was roughed up by sand miners at Buntwal, and a village accountant was threatened at Gurupur in Mangaluru taluk. In Panemangalore, Buntwal taluk, two press photographers and a reporter were heckled by mining workers at their employers’ behest, in November 2017.

So ruthless has the sand mafia been that they haven’t spared even top officials, namely Udupi deputy commissioner Priyanka Mary Francis and Kundapur assistant commissioner Shilpa Nag, who were assaulted and threatened during an inspection of a mining site in Kundapur taluk on 24 April, 2017. Six have been arrested in the case and the investigation is on. On 28 December, 2018, a village accountant of Raichur district was crushed under a tipper truck owned by an illegal miner. Police sources said there has been immense political pressure against slapping stringent sections in cases of illegal mining.

“As many as 121 complaints under two IPC sections have been recorded, out of which 41 are cognisable under the Minerals Act, and have been chargesheeted. The rest fall under the Motor Vehicles Act for carrying or smuggling banned minerals across the district and state borders. Here, the Mines and Geology department and CRZ authorities have filed complaints,” said a senior Karnataka Police (western range) officer.

M Raghuram is a Mangaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

Read part 1 of the series here

Read part 2 of the series here

Read part 3 of the series here

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Updated Date: Feb 02, 2019 19:47:49 IST

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