Elections give a respite to illegal riverbed mining in Uttarakhand

   Feb 18, 4:53 pm

Dehradun, Feb 18 (ANI): Corruption-free rule if voted to power again topped the agendas of leading political parties during the campaigning last month for the assembly elections on January 30th. Other promises included, predictably, uninterrupted power supply and employment for the local youth.

The effect of the Uttarakhand elections 2012 will only be known in March. In the meantime, an unlikely set of beneficiaries have been the residents of Tailihat village in Garur Mandal of Bageshwar District in Uttarakhand, located on the banks of a local river - Gomti. They were given the gift of peaceful nights; for, as even an amateur politician knows, campaigning and elections are no time to get one's hands dirty with illegal river bed mining.

Prior to the political outbursts and promises of fulfilling public demands, the evacuation of sand and stone from the riverbed would take place each night. Of course, it is expected to continue once the election results are out, irrespective of which party wins.

A section of the concerned residents of the village were disturbed by the fact that heavy vehicles and machineries involved in the illegal trend would harm not only the river but the entire village. Already, soil erosion has started taking place near the village's houses. If not arrested at the earliest, this trend of illegal mining from the river and fertile soil bed will inevitably result in another natural calamity like the one in September 2010.

During August and September 2010, Uttarakhand Himalayas witnessed large-scale slope destabilisation. Uttarakhand Himalayas are known for their instability due to ongoing tectonic activity. However, escalating anthropogenic intrusion in recent times appears to have contributed to terrain instability besides natural factors, as evident by increasing frequency and magnitude of landslides since 1970.

The calamity turned out to be a costly affair for Uttarakhand and its villages - the sides of Gomti River were drastically reduced and the entire fertile soil cover of Rajesera located in close proximity of Tailihat village was lost. The blame for the loss, undoubtedly, goes to the upsurge in the after-dark activities and the mute forest and administration departments of the tehsil witnessing this nefarious going-on.

Initially, the local press covered the illegitimate activities happening in the region, but with the collusion between the land mafias and journalists, the focus was gradually shifted from illegal mining to other incidental stories.

The villagers in search of livelihood play a crucial role in these illegal activities, which today have become their only source of livelihood. Despite being aware of the consequences of this high-risk activity, the unemployed section of youth is compelled to become a part of it.

The unlawful exploitation of Gomti River, besides threatening the natural heritage, has put in danger the cultural legacy of this village that houses three ancient temples belonging to the 7th Century. Out of the three, the famous Satyanarayan Temple sits precariously on the banks of the river. If the current situation continues, the strong currents of water are likely to destroy the existence of these ancient temples when they take down the village.

Last year was the year of protests. Some knew how to bag fame by taking the lead on "hot" issues but some fought for the "real" issues silently. Baba Nigamananda fasted for an astonishing 68 days for a cause that was of great national implication: his battle was to save the Ganga against Haridwar's mining mafia. But his battle remained a "low profile" one which ended tragically when his death barely created a flutter on 13th June 2011.

Close on the heels of the death of Swami Nigamanand came a sudden and short reaction from the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who asked the Uttarakhand government to take action to stop illegal river bed mining in Ganga, particularly around Haridwar. The cause was quickly and rather conveniently forgotten.

Today, eight months later, no one talks about illegal river bed mining in the region; not even as an agenda to pick up during elections the way it has been taken up by the political parties in Goa - the other state in the throes of election mania. It has, at least, created visibility. But here in Uttarakhand, from the administration to the locals, every one prefers to keep mum about it.

The illegal riverbed mining is done under the pretext of urbanisation and development. We require sand, gravel and stones for construction work. From houses to towering office complexes, the rivers products are used to develop the already urban; and urbanise the rural areas. Where we draw the line between development and destruction remains a matter of debate.

Excess of everything is bad, and the old proverb aptly fits the ruthless exploitation of nature by man. Strict implementation of laws combined with community efforts can together hold the situation at status quo, if not improve matters. The local Administration should take a tough stand to stop the commercial exploitation of river and fertile land of the nearby villages. Land mafias are not above the law and they should be made aware of it.

To help the government, the first step has already been taken by youth groups who have started raising their voice against this prohibited act, albeit at a small level.

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the government should support these young groups and also provide them employment. It should also involve local communities while designing schemes and projects. Only then can the idea of democratic elections bear fruit and show results; and not just empty promises which come and go with changing governments, while the river continues to be violated. By Vipin Joshi (ANI)

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