By Sandeep Pai | Place: Indore | Agency: DNA
Rampant illegal sand mining across the Narmada valley on land acquired by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) from oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is not only threatening the delicate ecological balance of the area but could also reduce the project life of the dam.
While truckloads of sand is being mined without any permission, the activity also contravenes the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979, which expressly states that land acquired for the SSP may be used only for agriculture or for reservoirs.
The project life of the SSP, meant to irrigate 18 lakh hectares of land in Gujarat, 75,000 hectares in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares in Maharashtra, is expected to be reduced because the mining is in the dam’s submergence areas, environmentalists say.
The illegal mining started after the collectors’ of the Badwani, Alirajpur, Khargone and Dhar districts in MP gave out mining licences on government lands adjacent to the NVDA’s acquired land. The licences were granted once in 2009
and again in 2011, for a period of two years.
The mining contracts are themselves a subject of debate as the government lands also lie in the submergence areas on both sides of the Narmada River. But more dangerously, illegal miners are now blatantly breaching boundaries of assigned mining areas, extracting sand instead from areas acquired by the NVDA.
In response to a Right to Information application, the NVDA has stated that it has not leased any land. “Thus, any mining activity on their land is illegal,” says social activist Medha Patkar, who has repeatedly raised the issue with the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) over the last two years.
Over 100 complaint letters were written during the same period by individual villagers and by panchayat representatives to police officers and district collectors. However, no action has been taken.
At least half a dozen gram sabhas have passed resolutions stating that prior approval of the gram sabha has not been obtained for the mining activity. The resolutions all state that the sand mining should be stopped.
Activists estimate the loss to the exchequer to be about Rs100 crore per year. In 2011, after a complaint about illegal mining in the submergence areas of SSP, the collector of Badwani conducted an investigation in two villages — Pendra and Barda — and recovered Rs3 crore in fines from illegal miners. “If we calculate for even 40-50 villages, the amount of revenue loss would exceed a few hundred crores per year,” said Srikant, an activist with Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA). As many as 192 villages are directly impacted by the SSP.
The collector’s report even named members of the sand mining mafia of the Badwani district, but no prosecution was initiated.
One complaint by the NBA to Union minister for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan in August said the government is on one hand spending crores of rupees for “catchment area treatment” that is mandatory as per the environment clearances issued to the SSP, and on the other hand is a mute spectator to hundreds of truckloads of mud, the topsoil discarded by sand miners, is being thrown into the reservoir. This could seriously affect the lifespan of the project, the NBA complaint pointed out.
A visit to the villages shows complete disregard for rules and the environment. In Perkhard village in Dhar district, huge heaps of top soil and even trees uprooted by miners have been thrown into the river. Large tracts of land acquired by the NVDA have turned into trenches due to unabated mining.
In Chottabarda village in Badwani district, DNA saw several trucks ferrying tonnes of sand. “On one side we have the Narmada and on the other we have these huge sand mining trenches. When the rains came this year, an entire settlement of fish workers was not able to move out – they were surrounded by water on all sides,” said Dayaram Yadav, former sarpanch of Chottabarda.
Villagers who protest are threatened, even assaulted, say villagers. “When I tried to stop the miners, they tried to strangle me,” said Om Prakash, from Piplav village in Badwani.
Complaints sent to the central government’s Narmada Control Authority and the NVDA were just forwarded to district collectors, to which the standard official response has been that no illegal mining is underway.
Afroz Ahmed, NCA director, said that whatever complaints he got were forwarded to the NVDA. “I have not received any reply from NVDA despite reminders,” said Ahmed. On his part, joint director of NVDA AK Khare simply denied that any illegal activity was going on. “All allegations are false,” he said.