Undoubtedly, sand is an essential part of the river ecosystem. It helps rivers stay healthy. It is critical for replenishing nutrients in moving water, ground water recharge, supplies lean-season flow to rivers, and provides habitat to numerous forms of aquatic as well as riparian fauna.

Despite this, illegal and unsustainable sand mining is widespread in the country, taking toll of modern civilization. Continuing efforts to assess the threat and devastation due to illegal sand mining posed to rivers, SANDRP presents a review of the issue. The subsequent reports will cover the governments’ role and judicial interventions needed to reign in unsustainable, unlawful sand mining across India.

Rampant illegal sand mining in North India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir Illegal sand mining endangering two bridges in Bishnah. Unchecked sand mining in Morchapur camp river bed in Bishnah tehsil endangered two bridges in this area. Eroded river bed reached the bottom of bridge and damaged its base, which may lead to collapse. More than 30 tractors strip river beds of sand every day from the sites and close to many important bridges, hinting there was unholy nexus between a few officials and contractor. As per the locals, matter was brought to notice of Assistant Executive Engineer (Irrigation and Flood Control) many times but he didn’t bother. They said that no monitoring, or patrolling of sand excavation is done by Department of Geology and Mining. http://www.earlytimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=199687 (January 2017)

Riverbed mining destroying rivers in Jhelum basin The uncontrolled extraction of sand, gravel, and boulders from Jhelum and the other rivers is destroying ecosystem of rivers. The Indus Waters Treaty—water-sharing agreement between India and Pakistan over Indus River—gives explicit recognition to right of downstream riparian population to sediments, just as it does for water. The trapping as well as release of sediments is regulated under this treaty and has been subject of discussions and arbitrations under the treaty. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/05/04/indiscriminate-riverbed-mining-destroying-rivers-in-jhelum-basin/ (May 2017)

Ravi river dying due to illegal mining The following video link shows illegal mining in the Ravi river in the Kathua district is threat to environment, and heavy loss to the state exchequer. Under the very nose of the state government, Punjab-based stone crushers are mining river bed beyond legal mark, causing severe damage to river. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICGOx2sKsiA

Himachal Pradesh hit by illegal sand mining

Illegal mining on the up in Jaisinghpur Despite complete ban on mining in state and subsequent orders of National Green Tribunal (NGT), administration has failed to check illegal mining in the rivulets of remote Jaisinghpur subdivision of the Kangra district. Because of the apathetic attitude of mining and forest departments, other state agencies, and local administration, illegal mining flourished here for the last 3 years. Heavy machinery is used to extract mining material from rivulets in violation of rules. In many rivulets, level had gone from 10 to 15 ft, which can cause flash floods during rainy season. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/community/illegal-mining-on-rise-in-jaisinghpur/405070.html (May 2017)

Illegal mining poses threat to 12 panchayats Despite mining ban in the Chakki rivulet in subdivision bordering Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, rampant as well as illegal mining is going on, posing a threat to 12 gram panchayats. Not long ago, farmers of the Maira, Khanni, Baduee, Baranda, Kandwal, Lodwan, and Mohtli gram panchayats produced 5000 tons of foodgrain in one year by using the Chakki water for irrigation but illegal mining left fertile fields barren, causing resentment in residents and farmers. Villagers of affected gram panchayats lamented underground water level in area dipped drastically. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/illegal-mining-poses-threat-to-12-panchayats/463789.html (September 2017)

Uttarakhand Ganga Rampant sand mining in Ganga: says Uma Bharati

Matri Sadan Fighting Illegal Sand Mining in Ganga Mining has resumed in the Ganga, seer on protest fast After five years ban, Haridwar (rural) MLA Yatishwarananda launched mining activity carried out by forest development corporation in presence of host of corporation officials. In protest against administration’s alleged contempt of court, Atmabodhananda, Matri Sadan ashram inmate, went on fast from May 14, 2017, demanding suspension of the chief secretary S Ramaswamy, director (mining) Vinai Shankar Pandey, industry secretary Shailesh Bagoli, and other officials responsible for issuing order for resumption of mining. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/in-haridwar-mining-resumed-in-ganga-seer-sits-on-protest-fast/articleshow/58672874.cms (May 2017)

On May 28, 2017 a team of district officials as well as the police reached the ashram, and tried to cut grill surrounding Swami’s room to force feed him. Seer Swami Shivanand is on fast since May 14, 2017 against the resumption of the mining in Ganga. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/attempt-to-force-feed-seer-on-fast-to-ban-mining-in-ganga/articleshow/58884412.cms, https://www.jansatta.com/rajya/uttarakhand/swami-shivanand-arrested-by-police/335645/ (May 2017)

Accusing State Government of apathy to Swami Shivanand’s strike against illegal mining on Ganga riverbed in Kumbh Mela area, group of scientists, activists, environmentalists, and followers have written to PM Modi. They pointed out Matri Sadan in Haridwar has demanded ban on mining as well as stone crushing on Ganga in Haridwar for several years with successive central and state governments approving demand from time to time. http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/swami-followers-write-to-pm-against-illegal-mining-on-ganga.html (June 2017)

Finally, on the World Environment Day, Swami Shivanand withdrew fast till death agitation. It was the thirteenth day of indefinite hunger strike, including six days of water fast (from May 25 to 30, 2017) against illegal mining in the Ganga. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/about-matri-sadan-fight-against-illegal-mining-in-river-ganga/

In October 2017, the Matri Sadan founder Swami Shivanand wrote to President, Prime Minister, and the Chief Justice of India, asking intervention to ensure stone crushers near Ganga riverbed comply with norms laid down by the CPCB. The seer said heavy illegal mining is making ditches of about 30 to 40 feet in agricultural fields situated on Ganga banks and islands with ‘khair’ and ‘Sheesham’ trees were destroyed causing ecological disturbances to the area. http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/matri-sadan-sought-prez-pm-intervention-in-stone-crushing-near-ganga.html (October 2017)

Village shows there is money in saving forests Dudhai villagers may be first in India to have got financial benefits under Biological Diversity Act, 2002. They have used provisions to end illegal mining on Swarna riverbed, which had been destroying agricultural fields and forests. Fighting mining mafia, engaged in large scale extraction of stones and sand for construction works, seemed unthinkable till villagers and forest officers in Dudhai near Dehradun decided to use biodiversity Act. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/flora-fauna/this-village-shows-theres-money-in-saving-forests/articleshow/58781991.cms (May 2017)

Politician mafia nexus behind illegal quarrying in Ganga The report presents social and environmental dimensions of illegal Ganga riverbed quarrying and mining in Haridwar. As election peaks up in Uttarakhand, spurt in illegal mining across the Ganga is visible, with tractors carrying sand and stones on kacha (temporary) roads along the 15-km dry bank, symbolizing the politician-mining mafia nexus. Although both Congress and BJP promise ban on mining within 5-km radius of Ganga, none implemented it, claim the locals. This election they are not talking about it as mining mafia is major poll funder and has a stake in across political parties. Both Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi as well as PM Modi skipped the issue in their public function in Haridwar.

“There is not a single legislator or prominent leader in Haridwar, who doesn’t own or have stake in stone crushers. Of course, it’s all benami,” said a senior police official not willing to be named.

Dushyant Mainali, who fights legal battles in Haldwani against pollution generated by quarry business, said: “Many ministers are involved in running quarry business through proxy.” As per those in mining associations, around ₹150-200 crore is what they have provided—directly or indirectly—to political parties this season. Mining (mostly illegal) is said to be second biggest money grosser in Uttarakhand after tourism, with annual turnover of more than ₹2,000 crore. Bhogpur village in Haridwar, from where Harish Rawat is contesting, is the epicentre of illegal mining in region with sand and stones lifted from close to river, even two days before the polling. Farm land is dug up 10 times the permissible limit, up to 30 feet, sand and stone have been removed from river bed and the sound of crushers creates ripple effect in the air.

“There is demand for money (for polls) and miners have a free hand,” said Sandeep Saini, who runs a shop in village. “But all mining happens in six hours between 10 and 4 in night, when vigil is low in connivance with authorities,” he added.

Locals say spurt in mining, mostly illegal, happened during Harish Rawat’s tenure as he allowed leasing of farm land to remove stones and sand, claiming it would improve agriculture productivity and reduce chances of flooding. A letter of agreement from farm owner was enough to get mining permission, resulting in hundreds of approvals in past two years of Rawat govt.

“Not a single stone crusher here is owned by a local. People from Noida, Lucknow, and Haryana have set up crushers. We have turned slaves in our land,” said Gangar Ram of Bhogpur village, demanding crackdown on mining and a “people-centric” plan to save river Ganga.

In an alleged sting operation that rocked the state few months ago, Congress legislator from Dwarahat was heard saying how quarry lobby from state’s Terai region allegedly provided money to protect Harish Rawat-led Congress govt.

“For me, both Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishak (BJP chief minister) and Harish Rawat (present CM) are the same. They promote the mining lobby,” Saraswati said. ‘The BJP also looted the Ganga in name of cleaning as Congress did. We need to save Ganga for future generations.’

Mainali said guidelines on crushers were changed 7 times in past due to pressure from influential lobby, showing ‘money power and clout’ they enjoy. In the campaign, apart from money, they provide muscle power through strongmen. http://www.hindustantimes.com/assembly-elections/uttarakhand-election-menace-of-illegal-mining-along-rivers-not-on-poll-agenda/story-ivAKzbVVbC00d4BUymy3iO.html (February 2017)

Stone crusher owner obstructed CPCB inspection team Gaurav Aggarwal, the owner of the Ganesh Stone Crusher in Katarpurm, together with 103 villagers hampered Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) team and members of Matra Sadan Ashram from inspecting impact of stone quarrying in area. Police filed case against stone crusher owner and villagers. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/stone-crusher-owner-others-in-uttarakhand-booked-for-obstructing-cpcb-inspection-team/story-pHYPyPqFJ6eRC8zJxiQFdN.html (Nov 2017)

Ramganga Kosi Sand mining draining lifeblood along the Kosi river Report highlights negative impacts of the unabated Gola riverbed mining on river ecology, local residents, croplands, wildlife, and groundwater. Situated on banks of Kosi, Choi has become hub of illegal sand mining in area. The riverbed along Choi has been mined for sand, stones. But residents say problems have exacerbated since govt allowed stockpiling in village in 2013. Today, 9 sand stockpiles in Choi are on land once fertile and productive. Moreover, dust from stockpiles has adversely affected productivity of abundant litchi and mango trees. Water levels in Choi, which used to be 15 feet, have dipped in to 150 feet. Most riverbed mining is uncontrolled. According to law, only chugaan, which is picking up mining materials by hand, is allowed. Yet, excavators are common in Choi and mining areas in region. A settlement of migrant laborers has come up on riverbed. During mining season (summer), there are 9,000 laborers living. https://www.pressreader.com/india/business-standard/20170417/281565175632226 (April 2017)

Corbett forest guard killed for opposing illegal mining Members of mining mafia active in river banks near Corbett mowed down forest department beat watcher under the tractor, when he tried to oppose. The incident happened near Kosi river bed in Jwalavan forest area at Kaladhungi adjoining Corbett Tiger Reserve on March 24. When men involved in illegal mining were challenged by beat guard Pehelwan Singh, they killed him on the spot. Two other beat guards accompanying Singh were tied up by miscreants, and later released by police.

Apart from killing beat watcher, 2 other incidents of assault on staff of forest department took place in Udham Singh Nagar the same day. The border area between Udham Singh Nagar and Nainital has been notorious for illegal mining usually centered near towns such as Ramnagar and Bajpur. Assault on forest department officials and the police are common. In April 2015, trainee IFS officer Kalyani Bisht was attacked by group of 50 people in Bailpadao area of Ramnagar as she was conducting raid near Dabka river bed, where illegal mining was going on. Two people were arrested in the case. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/forest-guard-who-opposed-illegal-mining-near-corbett-mowed-down-one-arrested/articleshow/57831592.cms (March 2017)

Following incidents, forest department suspended 3 senior officers, after operation went wrong during which mining mafia mowed down beat watcher near banks of Kosi in Ramnagar. In another incident in March 24, Barhaini range near Kaladhungi saw confrontation between mining mafia and forest officials near the Baur river. A forest team was fired upon by mining mafia, leading team to retaliate. This was 19th instance of attack on forest employees by quarrying mafia in past 6 years. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/mining-mafia-mows-down-forester-govt-suspends-three-officers/story-H4Hohlu8N0XS2ZpVOltFkJ.html (March 2017)

Police arrested a person in connection with murder of forest guard. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/uttarakhand/crime/one-arrested-for-killing-forest-guard/382635.html (March 2017)

As per reports, shortage of arms with the guards, hits fight against the mining mafia and wildlife criminals. http://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/shortage-of-arms-with-uttarakhand-guards-hits-fight-against-mining-mafia-wildlife-criminals/story-ZdTbNnoP2S4PLNl8evVb5J.html (October 2017)

Three laborers buried alive in a sand mining pit Three people, including a father–daughter duo, were buried alive under sand on December 22, when they were extracting illegally at Noorpur village, near Sultanpur Patti, police said. Three others were lucky as police team rescued them with minor injuries. All buried were daily wage earners, and were hired by a mining lease holder. A case was registered against lease holder and owner of vehicle, which was used to transport the sand. The lease holder was arrested while vehicle owner managed to flee. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/-3-labourers-buried-alive-in-sand-mining-pit/articleshow/62213225.cms (December 2017)

Illegal rampant sand mining creating havoc in Punjab

Three illegal sand mining cases reported daily Punjab’s river basins, facing reduced water flow and pollution, are being depleted by sand mafia, who continue to mine without any fear. According to an estimate, more than 3 cases of illegal mining are registered in state daily. Punjab has just one geologist and no mining inspector, operating from dilapidated mining headquarters in Chandigarh for last decade. The sanctioned number of inspectors is 32.
Environmentalists believe illegal sand trade in Punjab has led to bad consequences in last 5 years: Both urban and rural housing have become unaffordable for common man, while construction firms and retailers have witnessed losses due to high sand price. Government officials say mafia creates artificial shortage for sand in market, not letting price fall. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/3-illegal-sand-mining-cases-in-punjab-daily/articleshow/58332949.cms (April 2017)

Sand demand 2 crore tons a year, business at Rs. 3,000 crore This article gives useful stats about Punjab sand mining. In Punjab, sand is mined mainly from riverbeds in dry months, when water is a trickle in most of rivers and tributaries, and vast portions of bed are dry. Sand is mined in 14 districts of Punjab. Demand for sand said to be 2 crore tons per year. Officials estimate business in Punjab to be worth Rs. 3000 crore annually. A truckload of 35 tons fetches between Rs. 10,000 and 25000. When construction picked up in Punjab in post-militancy era, as did sand mining business. http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/mining-punjab-for-sand-demand-2-crore-tonnes-a-year-business-rs-3000-crore-4683382/ (June 2017)

Illegal mining free as sand through the fingers This detailed investigative report highlights illegal sand mining in Ravi, Sutlaj, Beas, and Ghaggar rivers in Punjab. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/illegal-mining-free-as-sand-through-fingers/504761.html (November 2017)

Illegal sand mining in Tarn Taran Illegal sand mining rampant in Beas river bed in Tarn Taran and Amritsar districts. Every night, trucks and trolleys commute on the main roads of district with sand. As per officials, staff crunch and patronage of political leaders increased illegal sand mining practice. They admitted practice existed in Sheron Baga, Kot Mehtab, and Budha Theh villages in Baba Bakala constituency in Amritsar, and Blojla, Vaironwal, Gagrewal, Dhunda, Mundapind, etc villages in the Tarn Taran district.

There are 8 mining quarries in district, but only one auctioned, which will be closed soon as contractor hasn’t paid second installment. During assemble elections, Congress had used it as poll plank to curb illegal sand mining, and provide sand on cheap prices in state. Before the assembly polls, sand was available at ₹1,200–1,500 per 100 cubic feet, but now price is ₹2,500-3,000. http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/illegal-sand-mining-rampant-in-tarn-taran-amritsar/story-GbidDjL1KMDyxHtqbYP6cP.html (November 2017)

Rampant mining in Mohali Mining mafia changed shape of land in Salempur Khurd village in Mohali. Deep mining pits close to houses pose threat to safety of villagers. In the Saini Majra village, mining has caused damage to supply pipes of tubewell. Villagers spending from their pockets to keep tubewell functional. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/all-i-can-see-is-20ft-deep-pits-house-owner/articleshow/62214865.cms (December 2017)

A PIL filed in Punjab High Court, court issued notices to State Govt and Mohali police. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/punjab-and-haryana-hc-issues-notice-to-punjab-govt-mohali-police-on-illegal-mining-4995216/(December 2017)

Drug mafia takes to sand mining in Moga Drug mafia has turned to illegal sand mining on common village land and private properties. A recent visit to village brought out that portion of panchayat land on Maseetan link road robbed of fertility. The land, where wheat and paddy sown for several years, has turned barren with deep trenches due to illegal sand mining. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/in-moga-drug-mafia-takes-to-sand-mining/506198.html (December 2017)

Rural Development and Panchayat Department begins investigations into illegal sand mining on panchayat land at Daulewala village in Dharamkot subdivision of district. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/inquiry-on-into-illegal-mining-at-moga-village/518583.html (December 2017)

Illegal sand mining on the up in Haryana

YAMUNA Haryana Mining firm builds ‘bridge’ on Yamuna Irrigation Department finds itself helpless as it seeks to remove illegal bridge on Yamuna bed, constructed by mining company in Sonepat, in utter disregard to ecology and threatens to change of course of river. Sources said influence of a powerful functionary of RSS, said to have interests in company, stopping department from acting, and it was passing the buck with Mining and Geology Department. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/community/mining-firm-builds-bridge-on-yamuna-authorities-helpless/383250.html (March 2017)

As per latest reports, Haryana Irrigation Department demolished illegal bridgemade on the Yamuna riverbed in Sonepat district. Anurag Rastogi, Principal Secretary in the Irrigation Department, confirmed illegal bridge razed. http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/governance/illegal-bridge-demolished/384160.html (March 2017)

Compiled and published first on SANDRP’s own website

Image credit: SANDRP


South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) is an informal network that is working on the issues related to rivers, communities, and large-scale water infrastructure such as dams and their environmental and social impacts, their performance and issues connected with the governance of dams and rivers. SANDRP is an effort to comment on happenings connected with dams, rivers, and people across India and the world. It also hopes to create a platform for informed debate as well as discussion on such issues. SANDRP's work focuses on awareness generation, outreach, dissemination, and advocacy. Comments and suggestions are welcome. To know more please visit www.sandrp.in