Quick sandStop illegal excavation of riverbeds, the consequences are severe and irreversible
It has come to light that many areas in the country are facing illegal extraction of materials such as pebbles, stones and sand. Wherever such indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources occurs, locals are afraid to speak out due to the fear of being attacked by goons affiliated to the ‘mining mafia’. Such illegal activities should stop, as it not only hits government revenue but also poses environmental hazards.
Unchecked sand and gravel mining along river beds makes the rivers sink deeper, which aids in faster erosion of the surrounding land. This, along with rapid urbanisation, puts pressure on the surrounding soil to the extent that the very ground beneath settlements can collapse. Soil erosion caused by unmanaged mining of sand and gravel has already started destroying houses alongside the river banks in Hemja, Armala and other areas near Pokhara, displacing local people. As far back as 1998, after completing a detailed geological survey, geologists had warned of the issues presented by rampant mining along riverbeds in the region surrounding Pokhara. Analysis of the frequency of sinkholes, and the rapid increase in the depth of gorges in that area were cited as a cause of making Pokhara prone to natural calamities like sinkholes, floods and earthquake in a study conducted by the Soil Conservation Office in 2014. The Chure hills, too, have faced the brunt of excessive mining of sand and boulders, to a point where massive erosion endangered the biodiversity of the region—which is why former president Ram Baran Yadav had made saving the Chure Hills one of his priorities when in office.
More recently, locals in and around the Changunarayan Temple have complained of illegal sand mining around the Manohara river and at the base of the temple. Such complaints are echoed by locals in Baglung, Tanahu and Gorkha, where the illegal disfigurement and depletion of areas surrounding the Kali Gandaki and Marshyangdi rivers is occurring. In the case of Changunarayan, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered the country’s oldest temple, depletion of sand has raised alarms that the very structure of the temple and surrounding areas is at risk. The hillock on which the temple stands houses 200 families. The areas of Kathmandu and Patan in the Valley too have faced issues due to the depletion of sand and pebbles. With the lack of permeable layers such as sand to slow down and absorb water from rainfall and rivers, most of the water drains away—adding to erosion without replenishing the underground water tables. Due to this, the level of underground water has been severely depleted, according to geologists.
Despite the growing risk of such illegal extraction, the guilty are yet to be brought to book. According to locals, there is an obvious collusion between the ‘mining mafia’ and local authorities. Indeed, with anti-illegal excavation laws in place, and the sheer volume of smuggling and extraction occurring from riverbeds through the use of heavy machinery and huge trucks, it does bring up the question as to how authorities have not been able to apprehend perpetrators. Any suspicion of collusion between the miners and local authorities needs to be investigated thoroughly, before it is too late for the settlements at risk.