Hundreds of sand diggers from across Kashmir have been rendered jobless after government adopted the tendering process to allot the work.
In Kashmir, hundreds of families are directly or indirectly associated with this activity since decades and earn their livelihood through it.
“Earlier, we used to pay a royalty to government and extract sand. It was easier then to sell and transport it to the buyers. Now, things are totally different on ground,” said a group of sand extractors from Pampore.
Another groups of sand extractors from Lasjan, Soiteng and Padshahibagh expressed resentment over the decision by the J&K administration to e-auction hundreds of sand blocks along the river Jhelum and its tributaries.
“The terms and conditions of contract are such that only non-locals will get qualified. It will be a sheer injustice to locals who are being snatched of their livelihood,” they said.
Local sand extractors used to manually dig the sand from Jhelum and transport it in boats to offshore.
Another problem these local sand extractors face now is that they are being held when they transport the sand extracted a year ago.
“We usually extract sand when water level is low in river and dump it at safer places. Then, we wait for some time when we can sell it at good price. Nowadays, some men pretending to be officials, stop the vehicles ferrying sand and force us to pay hefty fines,” said Abdur Rashid of Pampore.
He said in late evening a group of people comprising five to six persons stop the tippers loaded with sand at some points on roads where there is darkness and no public movement.
“They threaten us and ask to pay fines ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 each tipper. When we demand receipt, they refuse it. It amounts to extortion,” he said.
Another local sand extractor, Manzoor Malik said “sometimes this group of people claims to be the employees of a non-local contractor who have been allotted contract of sand extraction.”
“We have approached authorities with our grievances and demands several times. But our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” they said.
Locals fear that although a few local contractors could qualify contract but most of the sand blocks would go to outsiders and thousands of locals would be rendered jobless permanently.
Director Geology and Mining Department Vikas Sharma said no person have been allotted contract so far “but the process is on.”
“If there is transportation of sand by an authorized person we will never stop or fine him. However, if there are cases where fines are levied but a receipt is not given it is matter where we will look into,” he said.
Meanwhile, various association of local sand extractors appealed Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu to personally look into the matter.