Why illegal sand mining is profitable in UP?

Mining operation on the Yamuna and Hindon riverbeds in western UP is encouraged by the increasing demand for sand for construction by realtors

The suspension of Greater Noida SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has seemingly exposed a strong nexus between political agents, the sand mining mafia and realtors in the NCR districts of western Uttar Pradesh. Nagpal's widely-condemned suspension, however, is not the first case of an attack on an upright officer.

In the past, an attempt was made to kill then sub-division magistrate (SDM) Vishal Singh. A police complaint was filed. But nothing happened and Vishal Singh was eventually shunted out.

The seemingly unceasing mining operation on the Yamuna and Hindon riverbeds in western Uttar Pradesh is encouraged by the increasing demand for sand for construction by realtors, mostly operating in the Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad areas.

The builders, informed sources told IANS, are always on the lookout for cheap sand. These come from a mafia that illegally mines the riverbed of Hindon, Yamuna and Ganges -- by evading royalty.

A licensed operator, after paying royalty to the state, sells sand at a higher price: about Rs.20,000 per dumper. The illegal miner sells the same quantity of sand for Rs.8,000 to the transporters, who charge Rs.10,000 from the realtors.

Social activist and farmer leader Dushyant Nagar, who had tipped the administration several times on illegal miners, said: "It is not only the sand mining mafia that is behind SDM Nagpal's suspension. The builders' lobby too has a strong hand in the episode. In fact, they have a greater role."

The Uttar Pradesh government insists that action was not taken against Nagpal because of sand mining but because she ordered the demolition of a wall of a mosque.

Her colleagues in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) are up in arms over the suspension and have urged the central government to intervene.

Explaining the likely role of builders in the suspension, activist Nagar told IANS: "It is the builders who benefit the most from illegal sand mining as the mafia works for them.

"For each truck of sand mined illegally from the river bed, the builders have to pay only half of what they pay for a licensed truck of sand."

He alleged that besides some known companies, local Samajwadi Party leaders were involved in the sand mining. Hundreds of youths were engaged in the digging of sand from the riverbed, Nagar claimed.

Successive Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party governments in Uttar Pradesh in the past 15 years have not bothered to restrain the sand mafia.

Criminals apparently enjoying political clout operate openly. Licences were issued indiscriminately, sidelining all environment assessment norms, some activists said.

A Feb 27, 2012, order of the Supreme Court had directed states to grant leases for mining of minor minerals, including their renewal, even in a less than five hectares area only after getting environmental clearances from the ministry of environment and forest, said activist Akash Vashishtha.

"While almost all the terms and conditions of mining leases have been flouted by the miners, the mining is carried out blatantly in some of the most ecologically sensitive zones of the rivers in utter violation of the court orders and environment impact assessment norms," he said.

On Wednesday, a Noida-based anti-mining activist was murdered.

Pale Singh Chauhan, a resident of Raipur village, was killed for raising his voice against unbridled mining.

Chauhan had about a month back complained about massive illegal mining by a person named Raj Pal, after which the latter was sent to jail.

A fortnight after being released, Raj Pal headed straight to Chauhan and pumped five bullets into him.