Riverbed excavations go unchecked in KaligandakiBoth local units, which are tasked with monitoring and controlling exploitation of the river, and police have been turning a blind eye to illegal mining.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court banned the extraction of riverbed materials from the Kaligandaki River, but that has not stopped the illegal activity in Baglung.
The local units, whose responsibility is to monitor and control exploitation, and collect revenue, have been found incapable of controlling the rampant exploitation of riverbed materials.
Baglung Municipality of Baglung, Kushma Municipality and Jaljala Rural Municipality of Parbat, and Beni Municipality and Annapurna Rural Municipality of Myagdi lie on the banks of the Kaligandaki River and are therefore responsible for the conservation of the river.
However, almost all of the above-mentioned local units have given free rein to those involved in illegal excavations. The police who have the authority to curb illegal activities have also failed to take action against those involved in exploiting the river.
“It is not the responsibility of the police to keep watch over the river; it is the job of the local units. The local units may not be working to control illegal excavations,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police Madan KC of the District Police Office, Baglung.
Earlier the local units would collect revenue as export tax for the excavation of riverbed materials and used to strictly monitor the activities, but now that the Supreme Court has banned riverbed excavation, they do not exercise the same caution against illegal activities as before.
According to Basanta Kumar Shrestha, mayor of Baglung Municipality, the municipality used to collect around Rs30 million per year as export tax from riverbed materials. “The court order caused a shortage of riverbed materials leading to a flourishing black market,” said Shrestha. “Earlier, a tractor-load of sand would cost Rs3,500. It has now gone up to Rs10,000.”
Since the local units do not have the authority to seize vehicles and equipment used to excavate riverbed materials, they have not been able to curb illegal activities, says Shrestha. “We can only inform the police about illegal excavation and nothing more,” he said.
Confrontations with those involved in illegal excavations have only led to a blame game between the authorities and the police.
“On September 8 at midnight, municipal authorities saw smugglers excavating sand and stone from the river and immediately called the police. Before the police arrived at the scene, the smugglers fled,” said Shani KC, ward chair of Baglung-3. “The police never jump into action when informed about smugglers.”
In Baglung-3, the police have repeatedly been informed about illegal activities, but so far no one has been caught, said Shani. “The smugglers run away before the police arrive. It has happened four or five times already,” he said. “The police arriving so late has made us suspicious of their intent.”
“The police seize the vehicle and say they will investigate and find the people behind it, but so far they have not made any arrests,” said Shani. “The excavation of riverbed materials has increased in the area more than ever.”