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SPECIAL ARTICLE

Sand Mining - A Menace Mr. Nandakumar Pawar The National Conference – Hyderabad

I llegal reclamation aided by the political and bureaucratic class have taken away most of the fishing and boat mooring areas. The poorer section of the fishing community which used to make a living by fishing in the creeks and wetland areas are the hardest hit. Over the last two decades the fishing community has watched helplessly the creek which has turned into a toxic sludge disposal route. Hardly any life forms can survive in the creeks due to the high levels of pollution. The only hope is to wait for the high tide to bring in fish from the deep seas. Increasing pollution have dwindled their catch to single digit numbers. At the time when the fish catch dwindled due to pollution and other factors, some of the fishing community members tried their hand at Sand Mining. Manual excavation of sand

began and though it was a reluctant choice, it did not inflict too much loss. The construction boom of the cities began and rich people introduced the mechanised dredgers that came in and all chaos followed. Those with political backing and muscle power took over the creeks and began recklessly removing sand from the beds of the creek. Suction pumps recklessly gobbled up the creek beds and river beds. Though there is a ban on suction pumps, they are still used in many places and this is known to the authority which

chooses to look the other way for obvious reasons. As a result of this the waters of the creek has started to get murkier and deeper and the fish have just vanished from the area. Areas which were traversed by foot and where one stood in the water and cast their nets became so deep that it was impossible to fish even if one used a boat. Thus sand mining became a menace. A boat is not a privilege for all fishermen. The vast majority used to walk in the creeks and wetlands to fish but with the depth of the water steadily increasing, it has now become impossible to fish anymore. The depth has exceeded over 150 ft at places where one used to wade and fish! The sand miners too, chase the boats away from the area and no one is ready to hear the complaints of the fishing community. Even those with boats cannot place their nets in the water since it is too deep and also the sand miners destroy the nets during their operations. The mudflats along the creeks where the community used to fish for crabs are no longer seen. The mudflats have transformed into sand storage depots. Even manual excavation is done on such a large scale that it has started to reach levels of what mechanised dredgers can do. Let me explain how this is done today. A man dives down from a boat to over 50 ft depth and fills the bucket and is pulled up when he tugs the rope. Without the rope he may never be able to surface! Lives of so many divers are at a risk. To battle the physical discomfort, he is given liquor (illicit liquor) so that his senses are numbed! Thus human life and health are at a very high risk level. In fact human casualties are increasing with time. In one year alone at least 10-12 deaths have taken place in Maharashtra. Floating dead bodies of divers engaged in sand mining has become a regular feature in the creek near Thane. As they belong to the poorest of poor sections, no questions are asked fearing the might of the sand mining lobby. Deaths due to this activity are most likely reported as being caused

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