- Sand worth billions of rupees is mined from the Yamuna river, considered holy in Hinduism, threatening its ecology.
- During the COVID-19 lockdown, legal and illegal mining continued in Yamuna river in several areas in Haryana.
- The local pollution control board officials admitted that the mining in the Yamuna river continued to violate environmental norms.
- Recently, the National Green Tribunal also slammed authorities and suspected their collusion with the miners.
It is not just severe pollution that is threatening the Yamuna river. Excessive and unsustainable sand mining along with instances of illegal mining are inflicting irreparable damage on the river that runs across north Indian states and is considered sacred in Hinduism.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, mechanised mining continued in the Yamuna river just outside the national capital New Delhi and many pictures and videos that highlighted the violation of environmental norms in this process were circulated widely on social media.
Environmentalists highlight that sand is an important component of the river system and needs to be preserved.
“Sand is responsible for several things in the river system including its stability and also provides habitat to the various life forms like nesting sites to the crocodiles, turtles and birds. It is the sand in the river that ensures that we have groundwater,” environmentalist Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a consortium working towards the rejuvenation of Yamuna, told Mongabay-India.
Despite the importance of sand, mining continues unabated in the Yamuna river systems.
Noida-based activist Vikrant Tongad said, “Both legal and illegal mining is happening in Yamuna river.”
“Even legal mining is damaging the river because they are not following the prescribed parameter or norms for sustainable mining. If we talk particularly about the Delhi-National Capital Region around Delhi, there are a series of infrastructure projects for which a lot of sand is required. But since there is poor regulation of sand, the demand is met by illegal mining and River Yamuna is bearing the brunt of this,” Tongad told Mongabay-India.
Farmers, who live and cultivate the land alongside the Yamuna in Haryana, have also been complaining that excessive mining is affecting their crops.
On their plea, earlier this year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court restrained the mining contractors but locals inform that mining is still going on. In July 2020, on the directions of the National Green Tribunal, a joint committee was formed by the Central Pollution Control Board to inquire into the illegal mining. Earlier this month, the media reported that the NGT slammed authorities and suspected their collusion with miners.
Officials, when contacted, told Mongabay-India that licenced miners are violating the norms.
“The (Haryana State Pollution Control) Board has observed violations of environmental norms done by the licensed mining agencies in Yamuna river and has initiated action against the violators. Some of the mining agencies have made temporary structures for movement of vehicles carrying mined material and this may change the course /direction of the river and will affect the river biodiversity,” S. Narayanan, who is the member secretary of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board revealed.
“Such violations have been taken cognisance at Board level and the same has been brought to the notice of district administration, mining department and irrigation department. The DC (district collector) has already constituted three committees with all stakeholder departments to inspect all such mining sites and action will be initiated …” Narayanan told Mongabay-India.