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Illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga | The Probe Exclusive

The Probe accesses an exclusive copy of the internal document of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of the Jammu and Kashmir government that reveals how Doodh Ganga is being plundered of its mineral reserves

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
New Update

Dood Ganga A photo of Doodh Ganga clicked from Chadoora in Jammu and Kashmir | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

The Probe has accessed an exclusive copy of an internal document of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department of the Jammu and Kashmir government that exposes glaring details regarding excessive riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga, in the Budgam district of J&K. Doodh Ganga - is a tributary of the Jhelum river that flows through the Batmalu Swamp near Srinagar. 

The inspection report related to the mining activity in Doodh Ganga reveals that the Geology and Mining Department had given a mining lease to a private bidder; however, massive violations have taken place, and the region has witnessed excessive illegal mining. The riverbed materials that were supposed to have been mined in a period of 5 years were extracted within 13 months. Excessive mining and extraction of minerals without following the necessary environmental safeguards result in the degradation of the river ecosystem. But the authorities have not been able to curb the practice of excessive riverbed mining in the region.

The internal report notes: “At the outset, it is clear that within a span of six months period the mineral extraction is close to double (1.85 times) the anticipated annual production of 8335.2 MT as per approved mining plan. With this pace of mining, the total mineable reserves will be consumed by the lessee within a period of thirteen months only instead of five years lease period.”

The department’s internal document reveals that the mining undertaken in Doodh Ganga is not consistent with the approved mining plan. In March this year, the Department of Flood Control conducted an inspection of the site at Doodh Ganga after the local villagers had protested against illegal and excessive riverbed mining. 

More than five months have passed since the inspection at the site, but The Probe has learnt that the government has not acted against the private contractor so far. Though the report notes that at least 15 trucks carrying riverbed materials are dispatched every day, local sources say that close to a hundred trucks carry the mined materials from the region to different places. 

publive-image A picture depicting the mined Doodh Ganga | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

“Every day, around 100 trucks take out gravel, sand, and boulders from Doodh Ganga mineral block-12, and in the record, the officials of Geology and Mining mention only 15 trucks. What had to be mined in a period of 5 years is being taken away in a few months. This is nothing short of loot and plunder of the environment,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a local truck driver from Wathora in Budgam. 

The Probe contacted the Flood Control Department for reactions on the illegal mining. Zaffar Khan, the department’s Executive Engineer, said, “We have submitted the report to the District Magistrate of Budgam. The office is yet to take action against the contractors involved in illegal mining in Doodh Ganga.”

Local villagers who have been protesting to save Doodh Ganga from such illegal riverbed mining told The Probe that it is high time the District Magistrate steps in and initiates action. “Doodh Ganga is being plundered. This is happening right under the nose of the authorities. They know about this illegal activity, yet they have not been able to curb it. As we speak, this illegal activity is still going on. The newly appointed District Magistrate must intervene and direct the contractor to stop the mining work once for all,” said Bilal Ahmad, a local resident from Chadoora.  

Not the first, won’t be the last

Last month, the double bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) headed by Justice Sudhir Aggarwal restrained a private construction company NKC Projects Pvt Ltd, from riverbed mining in Shali Ganga, in Kashmir’s Budgam district. As per reports, the company had been allegedly carrying out illegal riverbed mining for the last eight months to construct the Srinagar Semi Ring Road project. 

In May this year, the Jammu and Kashmir Environment Impact Assessment Authority (JKEIAA) granted Environmental Clearance (EC) for riverbed mining in Shali Ganga to NKC Projects Pvt Ltd. This author had moved an appeal before the NGT challenging the said Environmental Clearance (EC). Taking cognisance of the appeal, the NGT served a notice to the company on May 25; subsequently, on August 12, the illegal riverbed mining was stayed.

“…since it has been prima facie shown that no replenishment study was conducted, till disposal of the appeal, we restrain R-4 (NKC Projects Pvt Ltd) from carrying out any mining activities pursuant to the impugned ECs…,” the NGT order reads. 

The Gurgaon-based NKC Projects Pvt Ltd was awarded the Rs 940 crore Srinagar Ring Road project by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode in 2018. The company is today hogging the limelight for illegal mining of riverbed materials which otherwise is to be sold locally by the project proponents as per State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) guidelines. 

Technically, construction companies cannot be allotted the riverbed mining (RBM) contract as the project proponents (contractors) have to extract RBM and sell it locally at a 50% discount in an area of two kms radius. This is mentioned in Minor Mineral Rules 2016 and the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) guidelines. In fact, even JCBs cannot be used for riverbed mining, and all the work is to be done manually by involving the local labour force. 

“We are local truck drivers from Chadoora. The contractor who was allotted the riverbed mining work in Doodh Ganga mining block number 12 is not providing us with the riverbed materials. He is selling the same to stone-crushing units that pay him more. This is destroying our livelihood. The contractor is duty bound to sell the material to us at a 50 per cent discounted rate, but he isn’t even providing us with the materials at the fixed rates of the government. We have brought the matter to the notice of the newly appointed District Magistrate of Budgam. We are hoping that he will take this up and act against the mafia,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, another truck driver from Chadoora in Budgam 

The mining mafia has been able to make huge profits through illegal mining. Locals say that the materials that used to be sold at 2000 rupees or so two years ago are today being sold at prices ranging between 6000 to 13000. 

Earlier in March, the NGT in another case filed by this author, had penalised three government departments in J&K for illegal riverbed mining and dumping solid and liquid waste in Doodh Ganga. The departments of Geology & Mining Department Jammu and Kashmir government, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Urban Local Bodies Department (ULB) were asked to deposit Rs 1 crore each in District Magistrate Budgam’s account as a penalty for destroying Doodh Ganga.

The tribunal order stated: “We find that neither the dumping of solid waste nor discharge of untreated sewage has been prevented nor illegal mining stopped and legacy waste cleared for which statutory timelines have already expired. The State is accordingly held liable to pay an interim compensation of Rs 1 crore each under all the three heads, which may be deposited in a separate account of District Magistrate Budgam to be utilised for the restoration of the environment.” 

Mining continues in monsoon despite government circular 

Director Geology and Mining Department on August 2 issued a communication to the District Mineral Officers (DMOs) across J&K who were directed to ensure no riverbed mining is undertaken from July 1 to September 15 in J&K as the government of India had banned riverbed mining during monsoons. Despite the circular, the riverbed mining continued in J&K, particularly, in Shali Ganga and Doodh Ganga rivers.