I&FC deptt extracts sand 'illegally, sells it'

I&FC deptt extracts sand 'illegally, sells it'

At many places, the department to expedite the dredging works outsourced the job to private contractors.

In what could turn out to be a biggest scam the Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) Department here in the garb of widening river Jehlum at Bijbehara in this south Kashmir district is going for alleged haphazard sand extraction and later trading it illegally, thus not only incurring huge losses to the state exchequer but also disturbing the fragile ecosystem.

Following devastating floods last year the Flood and Irrigation Control department started de-slitting and dredging of Jhelum to increase its carrying capacity.

At many places, the department to expedite the dredging works outsourced the job to private contractors. 

However, sources said in absence of proper monitoring by the department, some unscrupulous contractors are flouting the agreement by undertaking illegal sand extraction instead of proper de-slitting and dredging.

The illegal sand extraction is in particular going on in full swing near Dara- Shikoh garden, Padshahi Bagh, Pazalpora, near Simthan, PHE Division and Forest Office in Bijbehara.

“The Flood Control Department Anantnag has allotted the contract for de-silting and dredging to a blue eyed person in this area without going for proper tendering process,” sources said.

They said that the said contractor instead of starting de-silting from the river banks is only extracting sand from the middle of the river using heavy machines, later illegally dumping and selling it.

“The contractor in connivance with the officials of the department has so far extracted around 2000 tippers of sand and in turn dumped it at 12 different spots to be later traded for his own benefit,” sources said. They said that the illegal trade is being carried by the sand mafia during wee hours. 

The sand which gets extracted along with slit during the dredging process has actually to be put to auction by the Flood Control Department through proper mechanism.

“Each tipper of sand costs around Rs 3700 and thus the illegal trade of it is incurring huge losses to the state exchequer,” an official said. He said that the market value of the sand, the contractor has so far extracted comes around 74 lakh and it may further go up after the completion of work.

“As per the agreement the carrying capacity of the Jehlum at Bijbehara is supposed to be increased by 68,000 cusec of water but the haphazard dredging is hardly serving the purpose,” said an official in Flood and Irrigation Department. 

He said that the carrying capacity of the river can only be increased by cutting embankments through proper de-slitting and consolidation of banks. “The haphazard sand extraction,” experts say is proving disastrous to the fragile ecology. 

“The flow of Jehlum has to be smooth all along but the haphazard and unscientific dredging or excavation of sand can not only damage the ecology of Jhelum but also weaken flood defense infrastructure like shores and bunds. Dredging of any spot has to be determined scientifically after weighing its positive and negative impacts,” says an environmentalist.

Last year floods wreaked havoc in the area and locals blame the authorities for pushing them towards another disaster. “We are yet to come out of the damage caused to our houses by the floods but the authorities seem to be waiting for another disaster,” say the residents of Pazalpora.

Section 81 of the Water Resources and (Regulation and Management ) Act 2010 makes it clear that extraction of river bed cannot be undertaken with approval of the competent authority.

“No extraction of any kind of material shall be made in the bed or on the banks of a water course navigation channel, intake channel, city channel of flood spill channel without identification of the site of extraction by an officer specifically empowered by the prescribed authority. The officer before identifying the site of location shall ensure the extracted material is in controlled quantity and does not affect flow of the water sources,” the section of the act reads.

“The irony is that no official visits the excavation spot to check whether the dredging is undertaken as per the permitted quantity,” the locals alleged.

They said that during night hours, dozens of sand laden trucks continuously pass through our area which clearly indicates nexus of officials with the sand mafia.

The Flood Control has not even taken Department of Fisheries into confidence and the later has already voiced his apprehensions about the illegal sand extraction and communicated the same to the Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag. “The contractor on the pretext of widening of the river has been extracting huge quantities of sand thus causing damage to the aquatic life especially the Ichthyo-fauna,” reads the letter. 

The letter also confirms that the sand is being sold illegally causing loss to the state exchequer.

Chief Engineer, Flood Control and Irrigation, Javid Ahmad Jaffar when contacted said, “I have received a complaint for the same and I will be myself visiting the spot to look into the matter”.

Jaffar said that there have been some complaints of haphazard dredging by private contractors at certain places but the department is gearing up its monitory mechanism and taking action against the offenders.