There is no house or road or bridge or port in South Asia whose builders can claim to have built it with legally obtained sand alone. Illegal mining of sand from riverbeds is so ubiquitous in the subcontinent that on the rare occasions it is stopped temporarily by a judicial order, house prices go up and editorials criticising the judgement are written in financial newspapers.
Reporting illegal sand mining is the most dangerous thing a journalist can do in India. In the last couple of years, three journalists have been killed, allegedly by the illegal sand mining mafia, one each in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
A fourth journalist reporting on illegal mining of sand from the beaches of Tamil Nadu has been repeatedly threatened; anonymous callers – claiming to speak on behalf of a local politician from the party that rules the state – have ordered her to stay away from the area or else.
Apart from journalists, there was the death of the monk who opposed illegal sand mining around Hardwar, where the Ganga comes down from the Himalayas and enters the north Indian plains. The monk had been on hunger strike and had been taken to hospital, where he died. Mystery surrounds the cause of his death.
Still, activists have continued to oppose illegal sand mining in India. The recent order by the Uttarakhand High Court declaring the Ganga and the Yamuna as living entities was in response to a petition by an activist, seeking an end to illegal sand mining around Hardwar. As part of the same order, the court banned all sand mining in the area for four months, and asked the government what it planned to do to stop illegal mining. There is no response from the authorities yet.
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