SRINAGAR: With the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the non-locals mining circuit has acquired riverbed mining rights for the first time. Some of the steams on which the riverbed mining rights were given were earlier protected because of the sensitive trout and other fish species.
The miners have not waited for the environmental clearances and have started mining. In most of the cases, they have used machinery in the streams, leaked official documents suggested.
Kashmir, mostly in the northern belt, has around 144 kilometres of trout fish streams where sand extraction was being discouraged for decades. Post-August 2019, however, all these streams and being mined for sand and boulders.
Even the officials have put on record the costs that the eco-system will have to pay for the relentless mining, documents leaked on social media suggest. The crisis complicated as the miners resorted to the mechanical extraction skipping the use of skilled labour force.
Documents posted on the social media revealed and that on July 8, the Fisheries Department raised its concerns in a letter to the principal secretary of the government’s Department of Fisheries.
“The illegal, unscientific and rampant extraction of bed material like sand, Bajri, boulders etc. from these natural water bodies have also led to annihilation, extinction and extermination of fish biota from these habitats due to ecological imbalance without consideration of Environmental Action Plan,” the letter signed by Mohammad Amir Mir, director of the fisheries department had written.
The letter says that “trenches /pools created by mechanical extraction acts as mortality ditches in which the fish particularly the juveniles get trapped and thus cause substantial damage to the existence of fish species. The human interference through the extraction of materials has played havoc on the life cycle stages of valuable Fish species and also hampered their reproductive capacity due to ecological imbalance. The unabated extraction from water bodies also disturb the aquatic food chain and has thus destroyed the aquatic flora and fauna”.
The letter mentions the names of the Construction Company, M/S Kasana Brothers (Contractors), and Sharp Constructions Limited which were granted permission by district mineral officer for dredging/removal of sand deposits from nallah Papchin Arin in Estate Gundqaiser.
The department of fisheries plays an important role in generating employment by establishing the fish rearing units for which quality water resource is prerequisite.
“Jammu and Kashmir produce 20,000 tonnes of fish each year while 93,000 people depend on fisheries for their livelihood in the state,” Outlook Magazine reported.
But the extraction of bed material according to the letter cause the destruction of breeding grounds of native ichthyofauna inhabiting the streams will prove a disaster for the livelihood of fishers.
According to Jammu and Kashmir’s Fisheries Act, 2018, all rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, springs, reservoirs canals, aquaria belongs to UT, as such department of Geology and Mining should consult the Fisheries department before issuing such mining and extraction orders, as per the act. Developmental activities should not be carried out at the cost of environment, the letter complains.
“It is requested that the contract allotted by the Geology and Mining Department for extraction of sand from Nallah Papchan/Arin –the world famous Trout Stream be withdrawn for the safeguard of aquatic ecology in general and Fish diversity in particular,” the letter mentions.
Trout (snow, brown and rainbow) and other important fish species such as carp are found in streams like Lidder, Sindh, Ferozpur Nallah, Madhumati and Kishenganga Nallahs where mineral extraction is rampant.
The Fisheries Department continued raising the issues with the higher-ups.
On October 6, in a complaint letter addressed to District Development Commissioner, Bandipora, MA Wani, Assistant Director Fisheries, noted that they traced a JCB extracting the bed material in Madhumati stream at Sonawari. When interrupted by the department officials, the contractor informed them that he has obtained permission from district administration to carry out mining besides depositing royalty with Geology and Mining department.
“The permission for lifting bed material from stream be banned from stream be banned particularly in the Trout waters as notified in the Fisheries Act,” Wani wrote, adding it poses danger to aquatic flora and fauna of stream.
Taking cognizance of the issues raised by the Fisheries department, on August 31, an order from Assistant Commissioner (Revenue) Bandipora, constitutes a team of officials who are mandated to take all necessary steps to prevent all sorts of illegal mining of all minerals in Arin Nallah viz, Bajri, Muck, Boulders, etc.
A senior officer posted in Bandipore said that their campaign has led in cancellation of at least one contract. “We had pleaded before an adviser as well and eventually the administration halted the process,” the officer said. “Many people have given their bids to the new blocks which were advertised but for some reasons, these bids have not been opened yet.” The officer said the NHPC people had also interrupted in the eco-system at some level but it has been stopped.