Sand is one of the easily available manufacturing materials, often used for construction purposes as an abrasive since it does not require much processing and has better quality than other resources. It also acts as a silica source for manufacturing common and optical glasses.
What is illegal sand mining?
Illegal sand mining refers to the extraction of sand from riverbeds, lakes, and reservoirs, and agricultural fields which ultimately is taking a toll on both the environment and human lives.
It also refers to the mining activity performed against the consent of the state government, particularly in absence of a mining license, land rights, or mineral transportation permit.
It is an offence under the Indian Penal Code, Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act(1957), and Environment (Protection) Act(1986).
In Kashmir, after the revocation of its special status, hundreds of stretches of river beds have been auctioned by the government. For the first time in history, non-locals have acquired the majority of riverbed mining rights but many of them are still awaiting environmental clearance.
Despite this, these firms are relentlessly mining sand out of irrigation canals and river beds without getting clearance from the environment ministry.
As per the rules, mining is forbidden in riverbeds below the depth of 3 ft or water level, however, heavy machines have made holes as deep as 50 ft at certain places; widely disturbing the natural harmony.
Locals also claim that such disruption has never been caused even after fifty years of mining by the tractor owners who dig sand with their hands.
Guidelines say that the amount of sand extracted must be proportional to its replenishment rate and river width but there is no regulation by the government on this matter.
Impacts and concerns~
Excessive sand mining can alter the composition of the river bed, forcing the river to change its course leading to the scarcity of water in certain areas.
It can also erode banks and cause a flood. Sand mining destroys the niche for aquatic animals and microorganisms by depriving them of the essential minerals in the water.
Kashmir is a region known for apple harvesting, many water channels and irrigation canals spread across the apple-rich belts of Shopian are running dry due to illegal mining affecting the overall production and livelihood of thousands of Kashmiris as well as making the areas prone to floods.
The “three sisters” that are the three tributaries of Rambi Ara, Romshi, and Virchow in southern Kashmir which are washed by the Pir Panjal Mountains are rich with exotic snow trouts and known to irrigate thousands of lush apple and cherry orchards scattered on their banks.
However, when the government opened auctions for mining, the “three sisters” were part of the reserves, despite the growing environmental concern.
The locals have reported that due to a year of unabated excavation, the tributary’s ecosystem has been vandalized and its watercourse tampered with.
In the northern district of Kashmir, illegal sand extraction continues excessively from the Jhelum river. Experts have cautioned that this practice most likely can damage river embankments and cause floods in low-lying areas.
Another concern is the widespread violence against the people who have reported illegal mining including reporters and several locals in Kashmir.
Many reports have recorded numerous instances of attack on villagers and threats to government officials and activists. Even sand mining itself involves risk as many people have died by drowning in sandpits.
Implementation of sustainable guidelines for mining given by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Control (MoEF and CC) which were issued in 2016 is necessary for the regulation of sand mining.
The government needs to follow strict measures to prevent illegal mining along with streamlining and simplifying the procedure of environmental clearance of tenders.
Cooperation between locals and the government is a necessity to curb illegal sand mining.
Illegal sand mining is a major threat to the biodiversity of Kashmir, “the heaven on earth.” Uncontrolled extraction comes at the expense of other economic sectors and local livelihoods.
There is an urgent need to strike a balance between development and environmental protection for the persistent existence of the community.
It is also crucial to identify sand sources that may be harvested at a sustainable level and according to protocols and codes issued by the administration.
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