New Delhi: The unfortunate death of IAS officer DK Ravi has once again raised the issue of the sand mafias involved in illegal practice of mining sand from riverbeds and threats posed to the officials who take them on.
From Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka and Maharashtra to Bihar, the mining of sand in violation of environmental laws and Supreme Court directives has continued unabated, largely because of a construction boom across the country.
Ravi was popular for his actions against sand mafias among the local residents of Karnataka's Kolar district but allegedly committed suicide on Monday by hanging himself at his home. His transfer from Kolar last year had prompted protests by the people there.
But Ravi isn't the only official who dared to take on the sand mafia, who often use heavy equipment to scoop up tons of sand from riverbeds every day, sometimes under the very nose of authorities that are required to stop such activities.
In 2013, Indian Administrative Service officer Durga Shakti Nagpal shot into the limelight when she was suspended by the Uttar Pradesh government after she formed special teams to stop the illegal mining of sand from the beds of the Hindon and Yamuna rivers in Greater Noida area.
Nagpal's team seized hundreds of trolleys used to transport the sand and levied fines running into lakhs of rupees. Her movement against the sand mafia upset leaders of the ruling Samajwadi Party who were allegedly hand-in-glove with the sand mafia.
The sand mafia is often the main source of the commodity, selling it at a very low cost and helping builders cut construction costs.
In the National Capital Region (NCR) alone, the sand mafia is believed to collect some 300 truckloads of sand every day. In Andhra Pradesh, reports have suggested that 2,000 truckloads of sand reach Hyderabad every day from the beds of the Krishna, Godavari and other rivers.
Reports have suggested that the sand mafia often pay huge kickbacks to politicians who pressure local authorities to look the other way as the mining goes on. Political backing is the prime reason why the mining is still continued in various states.
The killing of young Indian Police Service officer Narendra Kumar in Madhya Pradesh in March 2012 pointed to the deep-rooted politician-mafia nexus in illegal mining activity. Kumar, who was investigating illegal mining, died when people involved in the illicit mining of white stone, whom he had intercepted, ran a tractor-trolley over him.
As quoted by Hindustan Times, “If illegal sand mining is stopped in the Yamuna, then construction projects in the NCR too will stop. Seventy per cent of the materials used at construction sites is sand. There is supply because there is demand,” said Dushyant Naagar, convener of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, an NGO that works against illegal mining.
Environmentalists and experts say the massive mining is responsible for erosion and changing the flow of rivers. The mining and dredging of river banks in the NCR has resulted in the Yamuna shifting its course by 500 metres and posing a threat to flood embankments in Noida, experts said.
Activists say the need of the hour is a sound policy for sand mining that protects the environment, provides revenue to land owners and prevents the activities of the sand mafia.