The brazen sand mafia was looting 300 tonnes of sand per day destroying the environment and ecosystem around the Narmada. Things have turned around with activists from the Narmada Bachao Andolan stepping in.
Unregulated sand mining can devastate entire ecosystems–affecting riverine plant and fish life as well as the quality of groundwater in adjoining areas. Yet, 300 tonnes of sand were being mined from the banks of Narmada every day in the Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh. Locals felt that this was a conspiracy to destroy the river in its entirety. “Even when the trucks filled with illegally mined sand pass by the police station, they don’t take any action. There’s massive corruption here. They take as little 2500 rupees in bribes to let these trucks go. The sand mafia is increasing in numbers and getting emboldened by the inaction,” says Pawan Yadav, a youth from the Bharwani district.
Pawan and others in his village are very angry. The Narmada is worshipped as life giver by the people living on the banks of the river. It is the fifth longest river in the Indian subcontinent and 81% of the Narmada basin lies in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In response to the Sardar Sarovar Project, which led to the construction one of the largest dams in the world at the mouth of the river, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) was formed in the eighties. Leaders of the movement like Medha Patkar are internationally recognised and felicitated environmental and social activists. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has had a huge impact on the people living in the Narmada–from getting their voices heard and securing rehabilitation for the 70,000 displaced people whose villages were submerged by the dam to set up locally run schools for the indigenous communities. Even today the NBA is actively involved with the people living by the river and amplifying their demands for their rights.
Community Correspondent Pawan Solanki’s camera captures the brazen sand mafia carrying truckloads of sands even as the NBA activists, including Patkar, stop them. “No one is ready to hear us. What should we do, give our lives to make this stop?” says one very angry local activist. Without the NBA activists repeatedly upholding the issue, it would not have been covered widely in the media. Further, multiple petitions were lodged with the National Green Tribunal on this matter. With the pressure mounting the government finally announced on 22 May that there was a complete ban on sand mining along the river. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Chouhan, further declared that any vehicle carrying sand from the river will be impounded. However, the Minister has also announced the formation of an expert committee that will advise the government on locations where sand mining can be carried out without harming the river and the environment. Given the record of the government in allowing unchecked violations of environmental norms, there is a legitimate fear that this can become a loophole that will lead to illegal mining. Meanwhile, activists who fought so hard for saving the river can breathe a temporary sigh of relief and gather their strength in preparation for the next battle.
Article by Madhura Chakraborty