On August 2nd the Director Geology & Mining Department issued a circular under office communication No: 59/MCC/DGM/CIRCULAR/15/3575-81. All the District Mineral Officers (DMOs) were directed to ensure no riverbed mining (RBM) is undertaken from July 1st to September 15th in J&K as Govt of India has banned riverbed mining during monsoons. Ideally this circular should have come up in the month of June, but it was issued after a delay of 1 month. I was happy to see this order as I have been personally much concerned about illegal mining. I thought the orders would be implemented in toto but on the ground the illegal mining has not at all stopped. In Shali Ganga and Doodh Ganga streams in Budgam the illegal mining continues. A friend sent me photos from Kargam Palchiti on August 4th around 6:58 PM and I could see JCB’s , cranes working openly. For the last 8 months I have written a lot on this subject and I have been highlighting the lapses through social media as well by going to ground zero and making videos on the ground. From last 6 months I tweet every alternate day on this issue, but the Mining Department is totally unresponsive. I was forced to move to National Green Tribunal (NGT) challenging an environmental clearance given by State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority -SEIAA to a construction company NKC Projects Pvt Ltd in April this year. NGT issued notice to SIEAA and the company and now matter is listed for hearing on Friday August 5th.
Last year the Geology & Mining Department issued several public notices to enforce its rate list of minor minerals, processed minerals used in construction work. The District Mineral Officer (DMO) Budgam on April 1st 2021 issued a public notice wherein rates for different riverbed materials especially sand, nallah bajri, crushed bajri (gravel), nallah boulders etc were said to have been fixed. In addition to it rates for bricks were also specified in the notice. The said notification reads as:
“ On the direction of Worthy Deputy Commissioner Budgam , the general public is hereby informed to contact following phone numbers for redressal of their grievances with regard to sale of minor minerals and processed minerals (sand , nallah bajri , crushed bajri, clay , bricks etc) in district Budgam beyond the rates fixed by District Magistrate Budgam”
The contact numbers and names of the officials were provided in a tabulated form followed by rates of different construction material. The rate of bricks at source was fixed @ Rs 21,000 / 3000 bricks, sand @ Rs 4200 / 150 Cu feet (1 tipper), Crushed bajri @ Rs 3450/ 150 Cu feet (1 tipper) , Quarry stone (Rubble) @ Rs 1125 / 150 Cu feet (1 tipper) , Nallah Boulders @ Rs 900/ 150 Cu feet, Nallah Muck @ Rs 600 / 150 Cu Feet Clay @ Rs 450 / 150 Cu Feet. For instance if the material is carried to a place 10 kms away from the source we can add a fare of Rs 3000 approximately which means a tipper (truck) of bricks has to be sold for Rs 25000 and sand @ Rs 7200 , but on the ground these items are sold @ Rs 32,000 and between Rs 13000 to Rs 15000 per truck respectively?
Earlier the Geology & Mining Department would only take royalty from the people involved in mining trade including truck drivers carrying the riverbed material (RBM) like sand, boulders, nallah bajri etc. In 2016 Govt came up with new mining rules known as Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage and Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules 2016 also known as J&K Minor Mineral Rules 2016. These rules were framed to counter illegal mining in rivers, nallah’s and streams. If we analyse anything that has changed after the Govt invoked new rules or e-auctioned the mining blocks in different water bodies (rivers, streams, nallah’s), I personally believe that the situation has deteriorated. My analysis is not hypothetical but it is based on in-depth research and analysis that I have been doing for almost a year now. For the last 18 months or more the riverbed mining contracts have increased and more material is available in the market. I know at least five riverbed mining blocks have been allotted in Budgam in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga rivers. In these areas no mining was allowed 2 years back, but illegal mining used to take place but with small machines. Now huge JCBs, Poclain cranes excavate minor minerals like sand, nallah muck, nallah bajri, boulders and the rates of these items has doubled or gone up 3 times also. As on date sand is sold @ Rs 13000 per tipper in areas located just 6 to 10 kms from the mining blocks. On the other hand Specific Guideline No 5 of J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) makes it clear that river bed mining material has to be sold on a 50% discount to local population within 2 kms radius of mining blocks. Ironically the material is not even sold at Govt rates in the villages located just 500 meters away from mining blocks. When I spoke to some residents of villages Sogam, Badipora, Panzan, Lalgam , Lalgund , Gudsathoo, they told me that in spite of being located 500 meters to 1 kms away from mining site , they get sand @ Rs 12000 to 13000 per tipper and rate of other material is also double or even more. These villages are located around Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga streams in Budgam. In the upper reaches of Chadoora Budgam, the mining material is sold @ Rs 15000 to 16000 per tipper?
Orders and circulars not enforced
With an aim to see whether the names of officials mentioned in the public notice issued by District Mineral Officer (DMO) Budgam would be of some help or not , this author contacted Mohammad Yousuf Naikoo an official of Geology & Mining Department on his mobile number 9419567622 on July 31st 2022 at 5:05PM. I asked him why rates fixed by his department were not being followed on ground ? To my surprise he said these were old rates . I told him the rate list (notification) is only 1 year old . He said a new rate list will be issued soon. If the new rate will be issued soon , until then the old rate list has to be followed ? I am unable to understand why 50 % discount is not given to people intending to buy riverbed material within a 2 kms radius of the mining blocks ? I want to ask the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) why they aren’t acting if the contractors / project proponents are not abiding by their guidelines which paved a way for issuance of environmental clearance (EC) .
Seeking intervention of IGP
If mining is banned in monsoon season across India including J&K why isn’t the Geology & Mining Department enforcing the order by asking police to assist them ? Is merely issuing a paper circular enough ? The August 2nd 2022 circular has no takers as loot and plunder of rivers and streams is on. The copy of the circular has been sent to all district SSPs but it is not even mentioned to enforce the order. The circular reads : “Copy to all Senior Superintendents of Police J&K UT for information “ . Is the Director Geology & Mining merely informing the SSPs about the Monsoon Mining ban or they should be asked to act as well ? I was forced to meet the Inspector General of Police- IGP Kashmir zone recently along with some members of the Environmental Policy Group (EPG). IGP Kashmir zone Mr Vijay Kumar who was recently promoted as Additional Director General of Police- ADGP gave us a patient hearing. He also wanted an order for enforcing the ban. I handed over him August 2nd circular of Director Geology & Mining on the Monsoon mining ban . The officer (IGP) called SSP Budgam , aske him to listen to our grievance. EPG is now planning to meet him soon.
On an average a riverbed mineral block is auctioned for mere Rs 1.30 crores for 5 years. The contractors want to earn crores in months. They are openly involved in unfair trade by excavating minerals at night time, using JCBs , selling material at exorbitant rates, not giving 50 % discount to locals and not installing CCTvs around mining sites. The idea behind allocation of these contracts was to give employment to local people. This is mentioned in Mining Rules 2016 and SEIAA guidelines as well, but it is simply a loot and plunder. I am fully hopeful that police will launch a massive crackdown under the guidance of IGP / ADGP Kashmir zone Mr Vijay Kumar. I also appeal LG Shri Manoj Sinha ji to take this issue seriously and call a meeting to streamline the Riverbed Mining in J&K.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement and Anant Fellow for Climate Action.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.