By Riyaz Bhat
Srinagar: At Summerbugh area near lasjan in outskirts of Srinagar, a spot in River Jehlum has attracted at least 400 men from Hajin and Sumbal area of Bandipora, who earn their livelihood by extracting sand from the river.
“In our village too sand is extracted, but at this spot we find it in abundance, and being close to city there is enough demand,” said 44-year-old Mohmmad Ramzan of Sumbal.
Ramzan said, that at least 400 men villages around Sumbal and Hajin have moved to this spot, 50 kilometres from their home.
“Unemployment back home has pushed us out here. Many times we have protested in the press colony Srinagar asking the government to provide us some jobs in the government industries but nobody has shown concern for our problem,” Ramzan said.
Most of the labourers come from poor families, (Below Poverty Line) and say sand extraction is the only means of their livelihood.
“I have three daughters, wife and mother to support. During elections we were promised jobs by the politicians but later they simply forgot us.,” said sand extractor Razzaq Ahmad Wani.
Some of the youth have a good education background but after failing to find a “government job” began to work as labourers.
“My friends and cousins used to call me ‘Einstien, as they considered me the most intelligent student in our colony. After I completed my post-graduation in mathematics, I began to work as sand extractor,” said Sajad Wani, 26.
At Summerbugh the men say are satisfied that at least sand is found in abundance.
“We were earning Rs 900-1000 per trip back home, but in Summerbugh we earn more than 2000 rupees for the same trip,” said Zahoor Ahmad Ganai. “We also get Rs 200 rupees from the truck drivers as loading charges.”
While sand extraction from rivers is legal after obtaining the required permission, the sand extractors are nowadays coming in conflict with (IFCD) Irrigation and Flood Control department.
The IFCD officials are pulling down the ramps used by trucks to reach the river. Officials say heavy vehicles damage the river embankments.
“We have been directed to cut off the ramps which damage the embankments, and to deploy magistrates for prevention of illegal extraction of sand at many places in coordination with police and to lodge FIR against illegal ramps laid by some sand extractors so that illegal activities of sand extraction are prevented to safeguard the embankments of Jhelum,” said AEE Pampore, Sona-ullah.
For the officials, it is not sand extraction per se, but damage to embankments that is a cause of concern.
The sand extractors find the prohibition as an extra burden on their backs.
“In cold winter morning it is too hard to dig and extract, and to then carry the sand in willow baskets from river bank to roads. If vehicles are not allowed to go to near the river, it would be hard to carry sand to the trucks. It will also affect our health,” said a 21-year-old sand extractor Rayes Ahmad Khan.