Unchecked sand mining ravages Jhelum embankments

Suhail Bhat
SRINAGAR, Sept 16: Although the authorities have banned movement of heavy machinery and vehicles on the Jhelum embankments, diggers continue to ferry mined sand on temporary roads cut through the banks.
The continuous movement of these heavy vehicles has damaged the embankments, putting the nearby areas vulnerable to floods. Besides, unabated sand mining has put extra pressure on the embankments and weakened their bases. Areas like Kakapora, Pampore, Sampora, Athwajan and Pandrethan are worst affected.
The locals of several areas alleged that the miners carry out illegal mining in connivance of I&FC officials. “It is impossible to carry out mining and transport the material with such impunity without the help of officials,” a local said, adding the authorities concerned are deliberately turning a blind eye to the unlawful act.
Mohammad Yaseen, a Civil Engineer, said the excessive sand mining not only affects the embankments but also damages other structures, “Without enough sand in the riverbed to act as a buffer, the river’s velocity increases leading to erosion of adjoining banks and downstream flooding. Infrastructures like bridges and embankments become vulnerable to damage,” he added.
Locals said at several places the illegal mining has also caused destruction to the protection walls which were constructed by the Government to protect the river from eroding the embankment. “The protection walls were constructed after the 2014 floods. They were constructed to support the weak embankments and minimize chances of a breach but rampant mining has also damaged them,” Yaseen Ahmad Rather, a local said, adding that a vast stretch of embankment collapsed due to excessive mining in Lasjan area of Srinagar in the month of January this year.
Indiscriminate extraction adversely affects the surrounding ecology. “It destroys Flora and Fauna. The excessive drudging or in-stream mining kicks up loose sediments into water body thereby polluting it and damaging the health of aquatic life,” Gowhar Ahmad, an expert said.
An official at I&FC said his division has to take care of nearly 44 kilometers of river from Anantnag to Pampore and it is understaffed. “We are understaffed when it comes to enforcement of the rules. Dealing with the miners is very tough and at times police are called to nab the violators, “he said, adding recently they along with the local administration launched a joint drive wherein 50 challans were registered.
Chief Engineer I&FC, Shahnawaz Ahmad, admitted that such practice was being carried at some places and they were trying to put a check on it. “Last week we demolished 14 ramps which were made near the river embankments. Apart from that, we have repaired the embankments in several places. We are trying to keep a tight vigil on the practice,” he said.
He further said that the department is trying its best to stop the illegal act but it is facing several challenges. “In most of the case the roads run parallel to the mining sites and it is hard to know which vehicle is used to ferry the material. The miners also carry mining during the night,” he said.