Wednesday 7 August 2013

Indian Government sets up inquiry into illegal sand mining in Uttar Pradesh.

The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has formed a three person committee to investigate illegal sand mining in Uttar Pradesh State, following the issue being raised directly with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance and leader of the Indian National Congress Sonia Gandhi. The move comes following the Uttar Pradesh State Government's suspension of Durga Shakti Nagpal, a young Indian Administrative Service Officer who had confronted an illegal sand-mining 'maffia' in the Gautam Buddha Nagar District of the state, which has provoked a widespread public outcry.

Durga Shakti Nagpal, suspended by the Uttar Pradesh State Government after confronting an illegal sand-mining 'maffia'. Jagran Post.

Illegal sand mining for the building industry, largely through dredging from rivers, is a major environmental problem in northern India, where it has been attributed with changing the courses of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers, as well as contributing to a series of flooding and erosional problems. Dredging sand from a river bed is likely to increase the flow rate, increasing the dangers of erosion and flooding downriver. The industry is thought to be worth about ₨500 crore (US$85 million) million a year, with attempts to police it being hampered by heavy involvement in the industry by a number of prominent politicians.

Sand miners on a river bed in Uttar Pradesh. The highly seasonal Indian climate means that riverbeds are accessible to miners without specialized equipment at certain times of the year. Shailendra Pandey/Tehelka Daily.

Following complaints by environmental groups Nagpal was asked to look into the problem in Gautam Buddha Nagar District by the state government. She organized a major clampdown on the industry, involving revenue, police and transport officials, resulting in the impounding of 297 vehicles and the imposition of ₨82 34 000 in fines since April 2013.

The approximate location of Gautam Buddha Nagar District, to the southeast of New Delhi. Google Maps.

On 25 July 2013 Ashish Kumar, the Mining Officer of the Gautam Buddha Nagar District and a key supporter of Durga Shakti Nagpal, who had already survived several assassination attempts, was transfered to Bulandshahr District by the Uttar Pradesh State Government, and on 26 July an assassination attempt directly targeted Nagpal at Kasna Police Station. Two days later Nagpal was herself suspended by the State Government.

Nagpal was accused of demolishing the wall of a mosque at Kadalpur Village, though supporters have claimed she visited the site to advise villagers that the mosque could not be built without planning permission. A video later emerged of Narendra Bhati, leader of the Samajwadi Party in the State Government, boasting that he was responsible for the suspension. 

Durga Shakti Nagpal's suspension has provoked widespread protests in Uttar Pradesh and a public outcry across much of India. The police investigation into illegal mining in Gautam Buddh Nagar District has effectively stalled since Nagpal's removal, but there have been a number of confrontations between local villagers and sand mining gangs, suggesting that the operation enjoyed genuine local support.

Members of the All India Democratic Women's Association marching in support of Durga Shakti Nagpal in Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh state capital, on Saturday 3 August 2013. The Hindu.

The Government of India has already requested a formal explanation of the suspension and events leading up to it from the Uttar Pradesh State Government, and has not followed this by starting formal investigations into the sand mining industry in the state. The investigating committee will report back to the Ministry on 9 August, when further action may be decided upon.

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