Sandmen on the Prowl

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Photo: Varun Bidhuri
Photo: Varun Bidhuri

Rampant mining continues unabated in villages such as Murshadpur, Momnathal, Mohiyapur, Jaganpur and Naurangpur on the banks of the Yamuna in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. On the face of it, there appears to be a strong nexus between and among political agents, police, realtors and sand mafia as it is impossible to carry out such illegal activities without the knowledge of the powers-that-be. Demand for cheap sand from the builders of Greater Noida and Ghaziabad has prompted the miners to illegally set up machines on the riverbed to dig deeper for sand.

However, police say they are doing their best to stop the unlawful activity. “An investigation is going on and we have registered several cases against sand miners. We won’t spare anyone, including the cops involved in this dirty saga. We have also seized many vehicles engaged in this activity. We are doing our best to stop illegal mining,” Preetinder Singh, senior superintendent of police (SSP) tells Tehelka.

On the other side, Keshav Dev, 59, is still running from pillar to post to seek justice for his son, who was allegedly killed by the sand mafia. In 2012, Dev’s son Narendar Kumar, an IPS officer in Morena (Madhya Pradesh), died when a tractor carrying sand, allegedly for illegal mining, ran him over.

“The rules and regulations remain only on paper. They (mining mafia) have no fear of the law enforcing agencies. Earning money is their sole objective and the police officers, who dared to oppose the sand mafia, were either transferred or suspended or bought over,” Dev tells Tehelka.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) governments, who have ruled the state for the last 15 years, have been unable to reign in the sand miners.

In August 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered a stay on all sand mining activities on the riverbed after the failure of the UP authorities to check the same.

Acting in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the NGT restricted the removal of natural minerals from riverbeds across the country without clearance from Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

When Tehelka visited the villages in Greater Noida, many of the locals were found to be involved in sand mining. Out of every 10 houses in the villages there, four were having trucks and earth movers to run illegal sand mining operations.

It was also found that villagers, who are into agriculture, are at risk of depleting levels of ground water required for irrigation.

Some villagers on the condition of anonymity said that illegal sand mining is leading to erosion of ground water. Villagers also said that the projects of illegal sand miners run into millions of rupees. The projects go on for six months or more.

The modus operandi of the sand miners is simple. First they dig for sand after which the sand is loaded onto trucks and sent to builders. The sand miners sell for Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 per truck to builders who, in turn, charge Rs 14,000 to Rs 17,000 per truck from the real estate dealers.

There were many who opposed this illegal activity. They were either transferred or suspended. We have many instances countrywide where bureaucrats or other high-ranking officials were harassed and punished for taking on the sand mafia.

In 2009, Durga Shakti Nagpal, an ias officer posted as Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) at Gautam Buddha Nagar, paid a huge price for acting against illegal sand mining in her jurisdiction.

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