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Illegal Sand Mining on RambiAra River in South Kashmir Goes on Unchecked

RambiAra Nallah, a tributary to the river Jhelum flowing through two south Kashmir districts - Shopian and Pulwama, is being looted by the local sand mafia for many months now. Locals say that all entry and exit points leading to the river were closed by the administration a few years ago. However, one entry point at Lassipora village continues to remain open and provides a safe passage to the sand mafia. Due to the intensive extraction of sand and stones, local agricultural land is eroding rapidly damaging the flora and fauna. The mafia uses heavy machinery to extract sand and illegal mining goes on.

Local activists claim that they have been informing authorities about the issue. However, nothing has changed and no action has been taken yet. RambiAra's streams irrigate thousands of hectares of agricultural land. The unsustainable, unscientific excavation of riverbed minerals has had a significant impact on the river ecosystem. Despite a ban by the J&K High Court, sand and bajri (pebbles) excavation from many nallahs flowing through south Kashmir goes on unabated. Locals blame authorities of being in nexus with the local mining mafia as they can see authorities turning a blind eye to dozens of heavy machines engaged in the illegal activity.

When Video Volunteers reached out to Majid Aziz, Shopian's District Officer for Geology and Mining, he maintained that his department, with the help of local police, has filed five FIRs against the culprits. However, large scale support of locals is needed to nab the culprits.

In June 2020, many non-local companies bagged a majority of the contracts for extraction of minerals from Kashmir's water bodies. Political and civil society groups have criticized this move. According to reports, contracts for all the 10 blocks in Srinagar were allotted to non-local companies. This is the first time that non-local companies have bagged contracts in Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

In April 2019, the Pulwama administration put a blanket ban on the extraction of minerals from rivers, nullahs and streams. The excavation of soil from Karewas (elevated table land) was also banned. However, the order was hardly implemented on the ground. According to locals, mining has also damaged roads due to regular movement of heavy machines. At many places, agricultural land has eroded increasing chances of floods in the future.

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