Illegal sand extraction rampant across rivulets in Budgam

Javid Ali
BUDGAM: The unabated extraction of sand and boulders from the rivulets across central Kashmir’s district Budgam is severely damaging the ecology and the structure of these water bodies.
Locals said that the illegal activity is being carried out by a “well-organised sand mafia” who use heavy machinery like backhoe-loaders to extract sand and boulders.
They said that the continuous movement of vehicles in and out of the rivulets has weakened the embankments; thus increasing the risk of flash floods in case the water level rises.
Residents of Magam, Peth Kanihama, Chaira, Nupora , Sanoor Kali Pora, Kanigund, Aarizal, Beerwah, Kawoosa, Ariwah and other villages of district said that the illegal activity was being carried out “under the nose of the authorities”.
“The mafia usually operates at night and there is no check on it. Scores of men from my village are involved in this illegal activity,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, a Peth Kanihama resident.
He said that the authorities, many a time, caught these extractors red-handed. “But after paying a minimal fine, these extractors were let go,” he added.
The locals in these areas feel threatened by the presence of dozens of tipper as well as tractor drivers. “Dozens of tippers and tractors venture into the Nalla Feroz Pora and Nalla Sukhnag every day. This assembly of drivers and the distributors is taking shape of a mafia now,” they added.
“If we confront them, they will beat or even kill us” another resident from Peth Makhama area said.
Besides this, the illegal extraction of sand has taken toll on the ecology and the structure of the rivulets. It has led to deepening of river bed and at many places; continuous digging has resulted in creation of deep pits.
Experts said that it adversely affects the irrigation system besides causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem of these rivulets.
The consequences include depletion of groundwater and damage to farmland, they said.
It is also detrimental to extract sand in the months from March to May and October to December as these months are breeding season for the fish, experts maintained.
They said that extraction of sand in these months should be discouraged.
Station House Officer (SHO) Magam, Mohammad Akbar said police was “doing its job” against the illegal extractors.
“We caught several sand extractors from Sukhnag Nalla and handed them over to Geology and Mining Department. They were fined and released later on,” he said.
Assistant executive engineer of Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Narbal, Ghulam Nabi Bhat, expressed helplessness saying they have been outnumbered by the sand extractors. “Our employee strength is less, so police has to play a more active role,” he added.
The authorities at Geology and Mining Department acknowledged that illegal extraction of sand and boulders was rampant across these rivulets. “The fine against this illegal activity is minimal. If anyone is caught, he pays the fine and is released,”   district officer, Budgam, Mohammad Nadeem, told Kashmir Reader.
“I have never got any application for legal extraction of sand and boulders. They do it illegally,” he said.
He said that they have to pay Rs 17 per ton plus a Challan fee to legalise the sand extraction. “This procedure is applicable only if a no-objection certificate is issued by Fisheries and Irrigation & Flood Control departments,” he added.