Rivers are the most important life supporting system of nature. For centuries, humans have been enjoying the natural benefits provided by rivers without understanding much on how the river ecosystem functions and maintains its vitality. Man has changed the nature of many of the world’s rivers by controlling their floods, constructing large impoundments, over exploitation of living and non living resources and using rivers for disposal of wastes. Among these, indiscriminate extraction of non-living resources like sand and gravel from riverbed is the most disastrous as this activity threatens the very existence of the river ecosystem.
To share our views on such an important issue concerning many of the communities dependent on the natural resources, we submitted a report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests on August 4, 2016 and participated in the discussion on the “impact of mining on environment”.
We focussed on the Narmada river basin that has witnessed new challenges being posed by the illegal sand mining mafia, a criminal nexus of politicians, government officials, private contractors and some local goons. The activity of large scale, destructive sand mining in the villages on the banks of Narmada and her tributaries such as Goi, Hathni, Nahli, Deb etc. is completely illegal and has serious implications on the fragile environment of the valley, especially the Sardar Sarovar Project affected areas. Sand mining has led to serious impacts on the environment (air and water) leading to human rights violations in many of the areas, more specifically in the Narmada river basin. The activity is also causing pollution of drinking water sources, subsurface water sources, irrigation sources, fish, severe health impacts and other problems such as destruction of crops, pathways, pollution of river and tributaries through deposit of huge hillocks of mud etc. The people are forced to live in a situation of threat to lives, livestock and property as the river / reservoir enters the village, near the houses, during rainy season, through huge trenches /pits. The situation in the monsoon is extremely grave.
Irrespective of the sustainable sand and gravel mining guidelines introduced by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change in 2015, State- wise policies on sand mining, NGT judgements and many judicial orders, nothing could stop the sand mining; instead the operators of mining activities have grown stronger and have been assaulting anyone that objects including Government agencies. Affected villagers allege politicians to be either directly involved or supporting the illegal mining indirectly, hence finds it difficult to raise their voices.
We have given the following recommendations to the committee: –
- There is a lack of mechanism to measure the sand mining that is taking place. It becomes very difficult to keep track of whether sand mining has reduced or not. Unknown of this fact, the impact of policies and guidelines cannot be measured.
- Union government need to bring the amendment in the EI Notification taking in consideration the pronouncements made by the NGT and various other Courts in the country, where they have clearly mandated the need for the compulsory environmental clearances from SEIAA or Central government, there is a clear abdication of the agency.
- The violation of these provisions needs to be in to a Criminal offence with heavy fines, any move to dilute or convert that in to civil offence should be discouraged.
- The enforcement and monitoring mechanism needs a complete overhaul, something which will have an impact on the overall environmental governance itself.
- In addition, a total ban on illegal sand mining should be imposed, since it is threatening the very life of the rivers.
We do hope the committee would take these recommendations and direct the government accordingly.
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