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Exclusive: After Doodh Ganga illegal riverbed mining, DDC seeks action against government officials

District Development Council (DDC), Chairman, Budgam, hails The Probe's efforts in highlighting illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga.

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
New Update

publive-image Mining activity taking place in Shali Ganga, Budgam | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

After The Probe exposed glaring details regarding excessive riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga, we have accessed a letter written by the District Development Council (DDC), Chairman, Budgam, regarding the mining activity in the Shali Ganga stream in Budgam district. The letter seeks action against government officials who have been mute spectators while illegal riverbed mining activity was carried out in the Shali Ganga stream, a tributary of Doodh Ganga. 

As The Probe continues its campaign against illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga, the letter written by Nazir Ahmad Khan, DDC Chairman, Budgam, to Dr Syeed Fakhruddin Hamid, Deputy Commissioner, Budgam states: “I went through some news items mentioning the National Green Tribunals detailed judgement to restrict a private company from carrying out any mining activities in Shali Ganga stream in Budgam district… The NGT has directed the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board (PCB) and the District Magistrate Budgam to enforce compliance with its directions.”

The letter dated September 30 further adds: “The NGT has observed that the project proponent has used heavy machines for excavation. NGT has also raised serious concerns over the procedure followed by State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) while giving prior environmental clearances. The NGT has further assessed that the sand mining in the riverbed has serious consequences.”

The Probe on September 6 exposed the illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga. We accessed an exclusive copy of the internal document of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of the Jammu and Kashmir government that revealed how Doodh Ganga was being plundered of its mineral reserves. The report revealed how the Geology and Mining Department had given a mining lease to a private bidder, but soon illegal mining started taking place in the region. The riverbed materials that were supposed to have been mined in a period of five years were extracted within a 13-month period. Our report exposed how excessive mining and extraction of minerals without following the necessary environmental safeguards resulted in the degradation of the river ecosystem.

The latest letter written by the DDC Chairman reveals how government officers have miserably failed to implement laws regarding mining in Jammu and Kashmir. The letter notes: “I believe the order has highlighted various lapses and laxity, and it reveals that concerned government officers dealing with riverbed mining have miserably failed to implement the Mineral Rules 2016 and guidelines of State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). The officers who allowed the environmental degradation in streams, rivers or even karewas need to be dealt with strictly.”

In a conversation with The Probe, the DDC Chairman, Budgam Nazir Ahmed Khan, hailed the efforts of The Probe in highlighting the illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga. He said, “I am very happy and pleased that The Probe took up this matter for coverage. It is very important to highlight such issues as these issues have a huge impact on our environment. I also appreciate the work done by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha towards strengthening the governance mechanism. However, the fact is that there are several black sheeps in the administration who bring disrepute to the Government, particularly the officials of the geology and mining department. I demand a thorough probe through investigative agencies with regard to illegal riverbed mining in the entire region”.

In the letter written by Khan to Deputy Commissioner Budgam, he sought strict action against all government officials responsible for the illegal activities related to riverbed mining. He has stated: “At the outset, the concerns raised by the litigant before the NGT should have been addressed by the officers at the district level only. It is only the result of their carelessness that the National Green Tribunal has now taken cognisance of the issue. The tribunal has now issued a 212-page judgment highlighting the huge administrative and environmental lapses on the part of the Geology and Mining Department and other concerned departments like the Flood Control Department, Fisheries and District Pollution Board etc. I request you to order a probe into this so that those officers who allowed the unabated environmental degradation are put to task.”

Final Judgement 

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), on September 28, 2022, came up with a 212-page judgement directing that River Bed Mining be stopped by Project Proponent M/S NKC Projects Pvt Ltd. The NGT restrained all mining activities in the area in the three mining blocks of Shali Ganga. 

“Impugned ECs dated 19.04.2022 are hereby set aside. Project Proponent respondent 4 is restrained from carrying on any mining activities pursuant to impugned EC,” reads the order.

NKC Projects Pvt Ltd, the project proponent, had proposed that it be allowed to mine 1.81 hectares (ha) in Block 1, 1.29 ha in Block 2 and 2.90 ha in Block 4. It was given clearance for the same on May 19, 2022, by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Jammu & Kashmir, which was challenged by this author. It took four months to get the final verdict in the case. In fact, NKC Projects Pvt Ltd challenged the interim order dated August 12, 2022, before the Supreme Court, but during the last three hearings, the company did not get relief. Now the case is again listed before the apex court on October 18.

In its detailed judgement, the double bench of Justice Sudhir Aggarwal and Prof A Senthil Veil referred to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on 15.01.2016, also known as the Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines (SSMG-2016). 

The Probe, in its report on September 6 had, revealed the role of NKC projects Pvt Ltd on how the company was allegedly carrying out illegal riverbed mining in Shali Ganga. The company was also blamed for carrying out illegal riverbed mining for the last many months to construct the Srinagar Semi Ring Road Project. The Gurgaon-based NKC projects Pvt Ltd was given the 940 crores Srinagar Ring Road Project by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), but the company soon came under scanner for illegal mining of riverbed materials. 

The latest letter written by the DDC, Chairman Budgam, seeking action against the erring officials who stood as mute spectators while the environment was being plundered in the district once again exposes the extent of the involvement of government officials with private contractors while carrying out such eco-sensitive projects.