Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Illegal sand mining from Manda river leads to soil erosion threat


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Locals seek immediate intervention even as Forest dep officials look on

From Biplab Kr Dey

DUDHNOI/DAINADUBI, June 16: Sand mining from the Manda river, which has been taking place for close to two months now, has left at least seven villages under both Assam and Meghalaya in a precarious situation as erosion has rapidly turned many nearby areas dangerous for habitation.
The matter came to light following complaints by residents of the villages of Nokmakundi, Kakalipara, and Kasumari, among others, who provided written complaints to the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara, Assam, not once but twice, regarding the situation after sand mining from the middle of the river left their areas prone to river erosion.
The case closely follows a recent visit by Assam Minister Piyush Hazarika, who, upon visiting flood-prone areas of Goalpara on June 7, directed officials to take action against soil erosion and ensure protection work was begun along many areas of Dudhnoi in Assam.
District officials confirmed that mining permission had been provided for sand mining after a No Objection Certificate (NOC) was received from some individuals, with the go-ahead from the Geological Department to mine the area for sand. Interestingly, complaints over sand mining had also come last year when the same villages had raised concerns.
It is noteworthy that NOCs have been received from only one village comprising just a few households, while the sand mining impact is being felt in the states of both Meghalaya and Assam. At least seven households across both states have been impacted, leading to joint complaints by villages from both states to the DC of Goalpara.
According to the villagers, the extraction of sand has been taking place for close to two months now and is allegedly operating with NOCs from some local organizations and at least two locals from near the villages where the extraction is taking place.  “It is strange that the forest department, which jumps at anyone cutting even a single tree, has allowed such free-flowing, rampant extraction of sand from the Manda River to take place without even considering the local impact on the environment. Even when we met them, they did not have a satisfactory answer. When this has been taking place for so long and has already created such an impact, why did they not act on it?” informed a villager from Kasumari, on condition of anonymity.
A team from the forest department visited the village to speak to the villagers following the complaint to the DC. After an earlier visit when they were supposed to arrive at 10:30 AM to hear complaints from the villagers, they turned up at 2 PM when the entire village congregation had dispersed. They did not inform the villagers about the reason for the delay.
When contacted about the matter, Das stated that they were delayed because they received another call about another incident that had taken place that day. No information was provided to the villagers to ensure they remained in place. The meeting was supposed to take place in Nokmakundi.
“How can they really just take a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from just one village to allow for such a massive operation when at least seven villages across both states are impacted by their decision? We want them to cease the mining with immediate effect as it is causing irreversible damage to many places along the riverbanks in both states. This just shows they were desperate to allow such an operation to take place without assessing the consequences,” informed Kasumari resident Brayan Marak.
A visit to the affected villages revealed many places that were never in danger of being washed away are now approaching the danger zone.
Last year, in 2023, some individuals attempted to mine sand from the Manda River near the same location, but a complaint to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) ensured prompt action and the seizure of such operations. This year, however, the response has been slow, and the villages now face a situation that could become critical at any moment.
“We are afraid to go near the riverbank as it is rapidly eroding this year due to the operation of at least six pumps for sand mining. Our area has always been peaceful, but these operators have made life difficult. We even had to cut down many trees in fear as they could drag more ground near the bank. What is astonishing is that they do not have our consent to operate,” informed another villager from Nokmakundi in Assam.
The Manda Eco-Tourism center, situated on the riverbank, has also been affected by the ongoing sand mining conflict.
When contacted about the issue, the DC of Goalpara, Khanindra Chaudhury, stated that following complaints, mining had been stopped while the forest department was conducting hearings of complaints by locals regarding the sand mining lease granted. However, he could not provide information on the company that had won the bid for mining or the duration of the lease. The DC, Chaudhury, confirmed that mining was taking place with government consent but had been stopped since complaints by the villagers.
“The mining and geological department has approved the mining, but it has been stopped since complaints arose. The forest department is currently taking hearings from people in the area, and we will wait for a report from the department. We will make a decision after the assessment has been done. Since it is a government-approved initiative, we cannot suddenly seize operations and will have to wait for sanction,” said the DC.
He also confirmed that an NOC was provided by a village near the mining site, after which mining operations began.
The villagers, however, were not happy and asked why consent was not taken from all who would be impacted by such a decision.
“We have noticed at least 15-20 dumpers carrying sand from our river daily. The pumps were set up in the middle of the river (between Meghalaya and Assam), which made the river change course and come toward where there are many habitations. These pumps operate throughout the day and have only been stopped because of the rise in the river’s water level. We want to urge the authorities to intervene quickly and stop these acts. “The way the river bank has risen is really scary,” said Darmen Sangma, secretary of the Manda Eco Society.
Wind Marak, secretary of Nokmakundi, stated that the extent of sand mining had exposed the foundations of an upcoming bridge in Kentra, North Garo Hills, which was why a joint complaint had been filed with the Goalpara DC.
“We appeal to the authorities to take action on the matter; otherwise, we ourselves will have to come out into the streets to protest. After all, our lands are in danger from these acts, and we simply cannot continue to remain silent,” he asserted.


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