Illegal mining

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FORMER chief minister and the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday complained of being barred from visiting Ranbiara stream in South Kashmir where, according to her, sand extraction through illegal tenders has been outsourced to outsiders. In a tweet later, Mehbooba said that the locals were being barred from the area. “Our land & resources are being plundered by GOI that has nothing but contempt for us (sic),” a part of the tweet read.

Mehbooba’s anger is justified. Whatever the state of affairs at the Ranbiara stream, it is a fact that many lucrative mining contracts in Kashmir Valley have been awarded to outsiders over the past year.

In December 2019, when Kashmir was under a sweeping security lockdown and internet had been snapped, the local administration decided to e-auction minor minerals including sand and gravel from riverbeds and streams. Locals had no way to apply as they couldn’t access internet so bulk of contracts were cornered by the outsiders who could now apply in the wake of the repeal of J&K’s special status. This has not only rendered thousands of manual sand miners jobless, spurring them to resist the “injustice” but also pushed up the cost of the minor minerals, a key construction material.

Before 2019, the local miners were granted short term royalty contracts over small plots of land. But it was after Supreme Court order in 2015, that the extraction of minor minerals including sand, boulders and muck, was to be regulated like major minerals. Under this order all the states of India were asked to frame guidelines to regulate extraction of minerals. According to new rules, the government auctions minor mineral blocks, around five hectares or more in area, with leases granted for a minimum of five years.

The locals are seething at being made the employees of the non-local lease-holders. The new lease-holders who live outside J&K, many of them reported to be hailing from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, have sub-contracted the mining to locals.

What is more, with most of the non-local lease-holders, having stayed short of getting mandatory environmental clearances, much of the mining being done is illegal, as is alleged by Mehbooba to be underway in Ranbiara. Illegal mining, in turn, has not only pushed up the costs but also detrimentally impacted the environment as the mining thus done doesn’t follow any environmental safeguards. It is therefore time for the government to act and ensure the illegal mining is stopped forthwith. Also, it shouldn’t bar the leaders from visiting the areas where the illegal mining is said to be taking place. This creates an impression that the government is on the side of the illegal mining.

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