Locals of Rong Rural Municipality in Ilam impounded four tractors used in the extraction of riverbed materialsStone smugglers from Mechinagar in Jhapa have been extracting stones from the Chure region for a long time now, say locals.
A team led by Mani Kumar Syanbo, ward chairman of Rong Rural Municipality in Ilam, impounded four tractors used in the extraction of riverbed materials (stones, sand and pebbles) from Chure area (Mechi river) and handed them over to the Salakpur Police Post on Tuesday.
The rural municipal office slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 each on the tractor operators for illegal excavation of riverbed materials. According to Syangbo, the Chure area (where excavation was ongoing) falls under Rong Rural Municipality near Ilam-Jhapa border; therefore, the municipality decided to take matters into its own hands.
As a part of their protest, the villagers had blocked water flowing into Mechinagar canal from Siddhinahar on Monday. “Locals had to resort to blocking water flow to resist the illegal extraction of stones downstream. They will only let water flow into the canal if the local representatives of both the local units in Jhapa and Ilam agree to stop illegal excavation of riverbed materials.”
Stone smugglers from Mechinagar in Jhapa have been extracting stones from the Chure area for a long time, allege locals. “More than a dozen tractors transport riverbed materials from this area on a daily basis. Because of this, the sustainability of Mechi river is in danger. Forests are being destroyed; water sources are drying up,” said Luwang Tamang, a local, who was involved in the inspection team.
Although the representatives of Rong have been requesting the representatives of Mechinagar Municipality to put a stop to illegal extraction time and again, the latter hasn’t been responsive towards their request, said Syanbo. “This is why the locals had to take this stern measure of cutting off the water flow.”
The riverbed materials excavated from Chure area are being stored at Tiring area in Mechinagar Ward No. 1. Around 7,000 cubic metres of stones extracted from June to August are being stored at the banks of Tiring stream.
Tikaram Mangrati, an executive member and also coordinator of Forest and Environment Committee of Mechinagar Municipality, said they have only permitted the excavation of riverbed materials in around 300 metres of Tiring stream bank (in Mechinagar Ward No. 1) and 700 metres in the southern part of Mechi river. “No one can extract riverbed materials beyond that,” said Mangrati.
According to President Chure-Terai-Madhesh Conservation Development Board, around 19,124 hectares of land in Mechinagar Ward No. 1 falls under the Chure conservation area. The government has imposed a ban on excavating riverbed materials from this area but the excavation continues.
The federal government had declared Chure area as an Environment Conservation Area on June 16, 2014. Of late, conservation of the Chure region has garnered serious attention from environmentalists and locals alike.
In 2019, the board had consulted on the modality of handing over the responsibility of conserving the Chure region to the Nepal Army. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel had also reviewed that Nepal Army could play a vital role in protecting the Chure region.
The government has also developed the sensitive areas along the downstream of the Chure range as protected areas (or protected forests) with an aim to conserve biodiversity, manage biological corridors and protect watersheds. But the use of heavy equipment such as excavators and dozers to excavate sand, boulders and stones in Chure areas has threatened the already fragile ecosystem of the region.
Chure, which covers around 13 percent of the total area of the country, is prone to natural hazards such as floods, landslides, and erosion because of the excessive extraction of riverbed materials.