Millennium Post

Blasting the rivers

It reflects the sorry state of affairs that the National Legal Services Authority has been constrained to institute a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court to protect our rivers from the illegal extraction of sand. Such a recourse to legal action should have been unnecessary. It was for the government to protect rivers from illegal mining. That it has failed to do so, leading to the official legal aid institution to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court, is another instance of the government's failure to do its duty and to protect the environment. Sand mining, when carried to excessive levels, becomes an  environmental issue. An excessive demand for sand, which is required in construction and other industries, placed pressure on the sources of sand and there is is over-exploitation of the resource. The government has failed to protect the rivers not because there are there are no laws or regulations to control illegal sand mining but because sand mafias have taken over the mining of the mineral. These, in connivance with cliques of government officials and politicians, operate outside the legal system for immense profits and flout the norms and orders restricting the extraction of sand from our riverbeds. Illegal and excessive sand mining, now rampant all over India, has major environmental impacts, for it adversely affects rivers, soil and forests. It effects the entire environment and impacts humans as well. There is little doubt that sand mining upturns the balance of water resources in a locality, thereby effecting irrigation. As water levels get lowered in the rivers because of sand mining, so does the groundwater, even as tanks dry up. This has an adverse effect on agriculture, and can, unless controlled, lead to avoidable food shortages, and cause hardships for the people. There is thus, an economic cost of illegal sand mining, which will only grow worse with the passage of time.

Excessive sand mining, in fact, actually threatens rivers with extinction, which would be an ecological disaster. There are the legitimate needs of the construction industry but rivers also have to be protected from degradation and an effort has to be made to ensure that they remain environmentally viable in the long-run. It can hardly be forgotten that human civilisations have been intrinsically bound with rivers but human development in recent times has also brought along their degradation. Yet, if rivers perish, human civilisation is imperiled. There is a strong need to import the principles of sustainable development in the management of sand mining. The government should not depend on court orders to do this. It should do it as part of its constitutionally mandated responsibility and as a duty.
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