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Illegal Sand Mining Devastates Livelihood of Mallahs in UP’s Kairana

Seema Sharma |
Several families have decided to migrate with their badly damaged.
Illegal Sand Mining Devastates Livelihood of Mallahs in UP’s Kairana

Illegal sand mining along the Yamuna in the Kairana belt of Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district has severely impacted the livelihood of the local Mallah (boatmen) community. Several families have decided to migrate with crops like watermelon, muskmelon and cucumber, the main means of subsistence, badly damaged.

The Mallahs are being compelled to migrate because illegal sand mining is not only destroying their fertile land and crops but also the river eco-system,” says Bhim Singh Rawat, associate coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People.

The community, according to Rawat, has been cultivating these crops in an area of the floodplain leased to them by the Panchayat long ago. “Now, the influential mining lobby, under the patronage of politicians and bureaucrats, is eroding the cultivable land and severely impacting their livelihood,” he alleges. 

Local journalist Ahsan Mallah alleges that “as per rules, the Mallahs aren’t allowed to clear sand or gravel deposited on the banks after monsoons without seeking the local administration’s permission”. Instead of tasking the community with clearing the sand like earlier, the “administration has hired contractors, who remove more sand and gravel than the permitted limit of one meter by using heavy machinery like JCB, creating deep pits and damaging the cultivable area”, he further alleges.

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The deep pits erode the land during the rainy season, and several children have died from drowning in these pits,” Mallah adds. “Besides, the Panchayat has stopped issuing pattas to the community.” 

Shamli district magistrate Jasjit Kaur claims that the administration has “already taken action against a particular miner against whom locals were very resentful”. “I will ask the vigilance team to see if miners are violating rules.”

However, Aslam Bhai, a native of Madavar village, says that miners “continue to use heavy vehicles on a 20-feet embankment” erected by the administration to protect the villages from flooding. “Several cracks have appeared in the wall through which water gushes out into the villages during monsoon creating a flood-like situation. Last year, the administration made many villagers vacate their houses and take shelter in a nearby school,” he says. 

Ali Mallah, from Pir Badoli village, points to the cross-section of bunds built by miners on the river. “The river is shrinking, which is affecting our crops, like watermelon. Besides, the polluting dust arising out of mining damages the crops,” he says.

Alleging “connivance of the local administration with politicians, who ignore their complaints”, Mallah says,A team of experts sent by the National Green Tribunal also found our complaints genuine. A sub-divisional magistrate was suspended for being hand in glove with the miners.”

Mustaquim Kewat, a well-known river activist in the region, says, “The Mallahs are like fish, which cannot survive without water. They have spent their lives living on the river bank. Our main source of livelihood, transporting people on the boat, ended long ago after vehicles took over. Now, we are dependent on farming but that too is under threat from miners.” The mining lobby “pays rogue elements to pressure us,” he alleges.

The community is reeling under debt and poverty. The children start working at the age of five while girls are married off quite early,” Kewat says while pleading with the state government to rein in illegal mining and provide education and jobs suitable to their skill sets such as encouragement in swimming championships, fisheries or maintenance of lakes under the tourism department.

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Many members of the community have decided to leave the villages and are awaiting good selling prices for their houses before they depart for good,” Kewat adds.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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