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River's existence 'under threat': Ken-Betwa inter-linking to degrade catchment areas

By Bhim Singh Rawat* 

Ken is lifeline of Bundelkhand and among key tributaries of Lower Yamuna basin. The river is relatively clean and free of industrial pollution. However, its existence is under threat due to catchment degradation and the proposed Ken-Betwa interlinking proposal. Apart from this, the river eco-system and dependent people have been at receiving end of large scale mechanized and unsustainable, mostly illegal mining practices for the past many years.
Some recent short video clips, media reports and satellite images have again revealed that sand miners continue to indulge in river destructive mining activities in government approved mine sites in three districts of two states namely Panna and Chhatarpur districts of Madhya Pradesh and in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. The miners here have blatantly violated the existing mining rules, MoEF guidelines and NGT orders while the respective regulatory agencies have miserably failed to enforce the laws and ensure compliance.
This report documents basic details on some of these incidents along with listing violations of specific norms and tries to understand reasons behind failure of concerned agencies.
Incident 1: A short video clip shared on social media on March 23, 2024 shows a dozen trucks parked in riverbed being filled with two poclain machines. There are heaps of sand being created by two barges fitted with suction pumps pumping out sand laced water from the bottom of the Ken river.
Incident 2: Another short video clip reportedly taken on March 23, 2024 showed two poclain machines operating in the middle portion of Ken river downstream Beera bridge in Ajaygarh tehsil of Panna district.
Incident 3: A video report (February 1, 2024) carrying interviews local people claiming Chhatarpur miners using half a dozen poclain machines, suction pumps to carry out instream mechanized mining in Bariyari area of Banda all through the nights. An affected villager mentions that the goons at mine site carry weapon and threaten them when they object to illegal mining. Villagers allege the miners belonging to some Malhotra Company of MP have formed nexus with MP mining officials and there is no patrolling by concerned officials from Banda district.
Incident 4: A You Tube news channel (March 30, 2024) report shows instream mechanized mining going on at Bariyari area of Nairaini tehsil in Banda. As per the report, despite complaints Mining Department and SDM ignore the violation. The mine is reportedly allotted to Descon Built Tech Private Limited company owned by Sanjeev Gupta. The report also mentions that in recent past the miner was warned and even penalized for the violations, however the action failed to ensure compliance to mining norms.
Incident 5: A video report (March 22, 2024) mentions about one and half dozen poclain machines carrying out instream mechanized mining in Ken river in Kanwara mine number 5 close to Banda district headquarter. The video clip also shows hundreds of trucks lined in riverbed to transport the sand. As per the report the miners have dug riverbed beyond permissible limit of 3 meters and the industrial scale sand mining could soon result in water scarcity in the area.
Incident 6: Local media reports dated March 11, 2024 show excessive mechanized sand mining going on in mine number 100/1, 100/2 and 100/3 in Khaptiha Kalan area under Pailani tehsil of Banda district. Villagers allege of instream sand mining being done even during night hours impacting Ken river course.
Satellite Imagery: The April 02, 2024, Sentinel satellite imagery of some locations in Panna, Chhatarpur and Banda districts reveal absolute violation of several riverbed mining rules.
At Beera bridge about 6 km long stretch of the river along Banjari, Lasgraha and Hathoa chak villages under Chandla block of Chhatarpur and Farswaha, Sunahara, Beera and Biharpurwa villages under Ajaygarh tehsil in Panna; both up and downstream of the bridge is affected by excessive sand mining. There are several cross sectional and linear bunds created by the miners. The mining is happening even within 160 meter up and downstream of the bridge on either side of the river.
The same scenario of instream, excessive mechanized mining with creation of long bunds inside active river channel is repeating itself at Badhari village of Chandla block hardly 3 km downstream from Hathoa chak.
After a gap of hardly 1 km due to west to east turn in Ken course, the mining activities further intensified for over a 6 km stretch of the river flowing through Harraee, Amaha and Nehra villages of Chhatarpur and Chandi Pathi, Bhina, Jigani and Kharoni villages of Panna. The miners have created two bunds across the river to facilitate transportation of the sand.
Interestingly about 4 km stretch of river between Biharpurwa and Bhina villages of Panna (opposite Badhari and Harraee villages of Chhatarpur) is under Banda district jurisdiction and violations of mining norms appears a routine affair in all these three districts.
After a 6km long rocky riverbed stretch, riverbed mining resumes over 2km stretch of river in Lahureta village of Banda district. The miner here has created over 300 meter long cross sectional bund in riverbed obstructing the natural flowing course of the Ken.
Further, about 9km long stretch of river upstream of Akbarpur Girwan bridge bears scars of indiscriminate sand mining operations. The Ken here forms boundary between Chhatarpur and Banda districts and mechanized mining is taking place in both districts across the river including in Bariyari, Kolawal Raipur, Nihalpur villages of Banda and in Barikhera, Goyra and Rampurghat villages of Chhatarpur.
It is worth mentioning that a teenager was crushed to death by a sand truck without any number plate at Bariyari mine site in Banda district on March 16, 2024. Apart from this there are several reports of instream mechanized mining of sand from Ken river in Khaptiha Kalan village of Banda.
Further, about 9 km long stretch of river upstream of Akbarpur Girwan bridge bears scars of indiscriminate sand mining operations. The Ken here forms boundary between Chhatarpur and Banda districts and mechanized mining is taking place in both districts across the river including in Bariyari, Kolawal Raipur, Nihalpur villages of Banda and in Barikhera, Goyra and Rampurghat villages of Chhatarpur.  

About violations of norms

The MoEF’s Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines 2016 mentions 65 Standard Environmental Conditions for Sand Mining. However, details of media reports and analysis of satellite imageries suggest that almost all these conditions are being openly violated by the contractors involved in sand mining in Ken river in Chhatarpur, Panna and Banda districts.
As per Madhya Pradesh Sand (Mining, Transportation, Storage and Trading) Rules 2019, mining within 200 meters area of bridges is banned. But at Beera bridge on Ken river between Panna and Chhatarpur districts mining is seen happening within 160 meters from the bridge both in upstream and downstream areas.
Interestingly, mechanized mining is banned in Narmada river as per MP Minor Mineral Policy 2019 and it prescribes manual mining in other rivers. As per the policy use of machines in other rivers is subjected to conditions laid in Mining Plan and approval by Environment Clearance. However, district level authority has no role in promoting manual sand mining in Ken river as the Mineral Resources Department, MP has signed 10 year agreement with MP Mining Corporation Limited which allots sand mine tenders in State’s rivers.
Probably, the most serious violation as reported from Rampurghat and Chandi Pathi areas is use of barges fitted with suction pumps which as per Mining Officials, Madhya Pradesh is not permissible. The suction pumps dredge out maiden sand from the bottom of river and significantly impacting the aquatic eco-system in the river.
Similarly, against the prohibition of instream mechanized mining, digging of riverbed beyond 3 meters permissible depth limit, diversion and obstruction of rivers’ natural flowing course through creation of linear and cross-sectional bunds are rampant along the river at all above mentioned locations. The local people also mention about mining activities going on throughout night and adverse impacts on aquatic life, riparian flora and farming lands thus severely impacting livelihoods of fishermen and farmers.

Why compliance to norms is failing

For about 80 kms the Ken river forms administrative boundary among Chhatarpur, Panna districts of Madhya Pradesh and Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. All three districts allow sand mine leases in the river in their respective areas without any cumulative assessment of sand deposits and adverse impacts.
This is one of the main reasons behind state of indecisiveness, ineffectiveness, callousness, corruption and alibi to not taking any action among district administrations when it comes to violations of mining norms. The miners take advantage of this and move to other side of river boundary during raids by affected district administration.
People closely following the matter reveal that root cause behind indiscriminate sand mining in Ken river is the collusion among contractors, regulators and local reporters. As per them, the miners have political links, are equipped with firearms and operate fearlessly.
“The illegal mining is rampant but the incidents only come to surface whenever the interests of a beneficiary party are compromised. This even includes local scribes who have been getting direct or indirect paybacks from the mining activities. Some of them even have purchased and employed their trucks in sand transportation business”, says a concerned person from the region on the condition of anonymity.
Ravi Patel, District Minig Officer (DMO), Panna shares some practical problems faced by administration in curbing illegal sand mining acts in Ken river. “Presently, there is no sand mine allotted in Panna. But miners from Chhatarpur side have been carrying out illegal mining in Panna areas. When we take action, they move to Chhatarpur side with their machineries. Hence the effort turns futile” states Ravi Patel.
As per him, the river land is under revenue department. There have been incidents of attack on government officials. Therefore, a team of officials from Mining, Revenue and Police departments for safety purposes is required before a raid is done. “We even need to have an executive magistrate in the team for seizing machineries, dismantling barges or destroying illegal structures on river raised by the miners to avoid legal repercussions” Ravi Patel adds.
As per him there have been incidents including local people refusing to be eye-witnesses, leaking of raid information beforehand, miners crossing district jurisdiction and defying legitimacy of actions making the regulation process complicated as well as ineffective.
He acknowledged sand mining in close proximity of Beera bridge on either side of river by miners from Chhatarpur side who escape action by fleeing to other side. As per him, the mining department cannot even stop the transportation of same illegally mined sand through Panna district as the permits are legal.
For Chandi Pathi site at trijunction of Panna, Chhatarpur and Banda districts where miners from Chhatarpur and Banda have been resorting to large scale sand mining operations, Ravi Patel felt need of joint action from the concerned departments of all three districts.
Surprisingly, Amit Kumar Misra, DMO, Chhatarpur first asked the author to share videos, reports and satellite images of mining violation in Ken river but later stopped responding to phone calls when the same were shared with him through WhatsApp. Similarly, Arjun Kumar, DMO, Banda has not responded to repeated phone calls made to seek his comments on violation of mining rules in the district. We will update the report if the DMO Chhatarpur and Banda respond to the questions sent to them on this issue.
Nevertheless, it is clear that sand miners have shown no regard to existing rules and court orders. They have found ways to exploit loopholes in regulatory process. Unless the state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and concerned central government agencies work sincerely to enforce the existing rules and strengthen the ineffective regulation, the Ken river and dependent people will suffer the adverse impacts of indiscriminate sand mining.
*Source: South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People



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