PARADIP : Illegal sand lifting in violation of National Green Tribunal (NGT) directions has become a regular affair in Jagatsinghpur district. Scores of tractors, trucks and tippers are deployed everyday to carry out the trade clandestinely with alleged support of revenue officials and a section of politicians.
Apparently, sand lifting is also the reason behind soil erosion in the banks of Mahanadi that passes through the district. In fact, unauthorised sand quarrying has led to severe erosion of river banks in Tirtol, Raghunathpur and Kujang blocks situated in Mahanadi downstream.
Thousands of people living in riverside villages of Kujang and Tirtol tehsil depend largely on the river ecosystem, in particular sand mining. Over the years, this traditional livelihood has been marred by the extortion approach of the sand mafia, who use political intimidation and administrative apathy to openly rob locals of their sand.
While use of illegal machines has been banned by NGT, they are used freely for sand mining. A case in point is sand lifting by ARSS Infrastructure Private Ltd, which has been roped in by the Government to develop Haridaspur-Paradip railway line. The construction agency has been using JCB machines to dig out sand from Kaladip area that lies close to the banks of Mahanadi under Kujang tehsil.
Sources said ARSS has recently sought permission from the Mines Department to lift 63,000 cu.m (cubic metres) from Kaladip sand mining area for the railway project with a plan to excavate about 21,000 cu.m sand per month for a period of three months.
Prior to that, the district level Environment Impact Assessment Authority gave permission to ARSS for sand mining on 6.45 acres of land, but the construction agency has allegedly been mining sand from 31 acres of land in Kaladip. This has also resulted in revenue loss for the Government.
This apart, the NGT does not allow use of heavy machines in sand lifting as it would affect the natural topography. Sometimes, deep digging of the river beds also leads to change in river course.
In this case, the Deputy Director of Geology had directed the agency to hire 93 persons for sand quarrying and 90 persons for excavation of sand. Villagers of Pathuria, Mahal, Kaladip, Badapal, Pankpal and Mantripatana that lie close to the project area, alleged that the agency has been lifting sand by using machines.
Sarpanch of Pankpal panchayat Namita Parida said large trenches dug in middle of the riverbed to extract sand could alter the course of the river. “Mining has to be done in a conservative manner without affecting the river and its ecosystem,” she said.
Kujang Tehsildar Basudev Satpathy refuted the allegation of irregularities in lifting sand in Kaladip as far as machines are concerned. On ARSS mining over 31 acres of land, he said if the agency is found mining in more than 6.45 acres, action will be initiated against it.
Repeated attempts to contact ARSS officials yielded no response.