By Parvaiz Bhat
Within a year, the Geology & Mining Department has seized 3,836 vehicles and 339 illegal mineral dumps besides imposing fines to the tune of Rs 7.80 crore against those involved in illegal extraction and transportation of river-bed minerals in various districts of Kashmir valley.
The action against the people involved in illegal river-bed mineral mining has been taken in accordance with the provisions of Jammu & Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules 2016.
In its annual report 2022-23, the Department of Environment Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) has revealed that the highest number of vehicles (655 vehicles), involved in transportation of illegally mined river-bed material, have been seized from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district wherein a fine of Rs 1.64 crore has also been imposed on those involved in illegal mineral mining. Budgam with 557 and Kupwara with 483 vehicles figure at number 2nd and 3rd with a fine collection of Rs 1.4 and 1.45 crore respectively.
Extraction of river bed material (boulder, bajri and sand) for infrastructural development projects and construction industry is an important economic activity in Kashmir region, says the report, adding that the exploitation of these and other available minerals in the region has resulted in formation of about 09 cement plants, 07 POP units, 297 brick kilns, 416 crusher/hot wet mix plants and 07 stone cutting/polishing units which sustain on the locally available major as well as minor minerals.
“During the financial year 2022-23, the Kashmir Valley registered mineral production to the tune of about 121 lac metric tonnes with a collection of Rs 51.45 crore as revenue. The current direct and indirect employment generated by the mining activity in Kashmir region stands at about 1.30 lacs persons,” the report says.
While exploitation of the minerals and their end utilisation helps in infrastructural development and provides employment to thousands of families and revenue to the government exchequer, the illegal extraction of river-bed material, according to residents of various areas of Kashmir and government’s own appraisal committees have highlighted the environmental degradation caused by illegal mining across Kashmir.
Seizure of thousands of vehicles and hundreds of mineral dumps, as revealed by the report, shines a spotlight on the extent of illegal river-bed mining being carried out across Kashmir.“…the unregulated activity as a whole is seen to have significant adverse impacts on environment and fluvial physical habitat characteristics,” observes the DEERS report.
In recent years, Jammu and Kashmir Expert Appraisal Committee (JKEAC), an eight-member committee of different subject experts constituted by the central government, has highlighted the negative impacts of illegal river-bed mineral mining several times. “The JKEAC has taken note of the news items circulating in the print and social media over the last fortnight relating to large scale illegal exploitation of river bed material in different streams of the Union Territory reportedly going on unchecked without any Environmental Clearance,” JKEAC had noted in one of its meetings, minutes of which were available on the government website. It had also expressed concern on the non-availability of any authentic replenishment data, sketchy district survey reports as well as various other issues.
According to the DEERS report, out of the 72 Minor Mineral Blocks identified in River Jhelum, 58 e-auctioned mineral blocks were cancelled by J&K Environment Impact Assessment Authority vide its circular no. JKEIAA/2020/2018/106/1697-98 dated: 18.12.2021 as it did not consider the Environmental Clearances for River Jhelum mining projects for being an in-stream mining.
Residents living alongside rivers and streams in various areas of the valley have also been complaining about illegal river-bed mineral mining and are expressing their concerns about the harmful impacts of illegal mineral mining.
“The way these people carry out extraction of sand, gravel and boulders from the rivers, the day is not far when it would deprive us from cultivating our agricultural land altogether,” said Mohammad Maqbool, a resident of Pulwama district, adding that large scale mining of river-beds is changing the courses of rivers and streams thereby making it difficult for farmers to irrigate their rice farms.
Abdul Majeed, a farmer in Kupwara district’s Lolab area also expressed similar concerns. “Continuous mining in the Warnow Nallah has deepened its bed to such an extent that farmers have to struggle every year for diverting the water to the canals leading to rice farms,” Majeed told Kashmir Observer.
According to research published by Centre of Mining Environment, Indian Institute of Technology (ISM), Dhanbad, the large-scale extraction of streambed materials, mining and dredging below the existing streambed, and the alteration of channel-bed form and shape leads to several impacts such as erosion of channel bed and banks, increase in channel slope, and change in channel morphology.
Besides causing losses to farmers and fishing communities, river-bed mining causes a number of other visible and invisible negative impacts. According to a report published by Wiley Online Library, river-bed mining is linked to many changes in ecological structure, processes, and biodiversity of freshwater systems, including habitat loss and degradation, reduction and changes to the diversity and abundance of macro invertebrate and fish populations, increased viability of invasive species, changes to food web dynamics, reductions in water quality and ground water levels, and alterations to riparian processes.
Prior to 2016, the extraction and transportation of river bed material (boulder, bajri and sand) was governed by J&K Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1962 under which Short Term Permits on advance payment of royalty were issued to local extractors for a specific period of time. “However, in light of the Apex Court Judgment in the case titled Deepak Kumar Vs State of Haryana & Ors dated 12.02.2012 all the State Governments and Union Territories were directed to frame fresh rules in respect of Minor Minerals under Section 15 and 23(c) of Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957,” says the DEERS report.
The Government of J&K framed and notified the new rules titled as “The Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016” vide SRO-105 of 2016 dated 31.03.2016. Under these rules the main mode of the grant of Mineral Concessions/ Mining Leases/License for mining of minor minerals is by way of e- auction in respect of State land.
“Accordingly in a Pre-auction process, the Department of Geology & Mining, J&K took up the identification and preparation of Geo-referenced Minor Mineral Blocks with areas not exceeding 10 hectares in light of the provisions of the said rules read with Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines 2016. 247 numbers of Minor Mineral Blocks were prepared in various nallas/Rivers of Kashmir Province along with the minimum reserve bid and after approval of the State/UT Govt. were forwarded to concerned Deputy Commissioners, Chairman District Auction Committee constituted vide Govt. Order no. 175-GAD of 2016 Dated; 01-03-2016, in pursuance to Rule 53 of J&K Minor Mineral Concession, Storage, Transportation and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016, for putting them to e- auction, besides some Minor Mineral Blocks prepared were reserved for JK Projects Construction Corporation (02 no.) and JK Minerals Limited (03 no.),” the DEERS report says.
As on date, it adds, 224 number of Minor Mineral Blocks have been e-auctioned through the District E- Auction Committees headed by concerned Deputy Commissioners in various Districts of Kashmir Province as per the terms and conditions of the approved E-auction Document and 203 Letters of Intent (LOIs) have been issued in favour of the successful bidders for completing the statutory formalities viz Approved Mining Plan, Environmental Clearances and Consent to Operate from the competent authorities before formal grant of mineral concessions.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.