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Above: The banks of the Saryu lit up with lakhs of diyas to celebrate Diwali in October 2017/Photo: UNI

Despite the NGT passing strictures against various governments in UP for turning a blind eye to illegal sand mining on the banks of rivers, the exploitation continues with impunity      

By Atul Chandra in Lucknow

In order to attract eyeballs, the Yogi Adityanath government in UP lit a record three lakh earthen lamps (diyas) on the banks of the Saryu to celebrate Deepawali last year. In 2017 also, the government put up a similar spectacle. The government claimed it was a Guinness record. The government also allocated Rs 300 crore for the beautification of Ayodhya, including Ram ki Paidi.

As the Saryu is associated with Ayodhya and Lord Ram, one had hoped that the government would take up the river’s beautification in right earnest. Instead, the river is being exploited by illegal sand miners with impunity. In that respect, Chief Minister Adityanath’s government is no different from that of Akhilesh Yadav’s.

Not only is the river being exploited, but the Ayodhya Eye Theme Park and Resorts is also coming up along the river bank. This, prima facie, has no legality, according to a report of the National Green Tribunal’s Monitoring Committee on Eastern UP Rivers and Water Reservoirs. Although it is a government sanctioned project, the Monitoring Committee was of the view that a team of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) scientists, regional officers of the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) from Basti and Ayodhya and a member of the mining department “shall visit the Ayodhya Eye Theme Park and Resorts, record the statement of its owner, give audience to the complainants… and find out whether environmental clearance is necessary and has been obtained”.

The NGT Monitoring Committee has recommended an environmental “compensation” of Rs 2 crore by the company carrying out “the mining at river bed of Saryu in district Ayodhya…that too with heavy machines (JCB) without environmental clearance” as “it is damaging the environment and the river Saryu, which may change the course of the river”. The Committee has also found Raj Shekhar, the district magistrate of Basti, guilty of overlooking the settled proposition of law “that no order or scheme can override the statutory provisions based on central legislations and no mining can be permitted in contravention of the circular of the State Government or statutory provision”.

The Committee chairman, Justice DP Singh, stopped short of imposing an environmental “compensation” on Raj Shekhar and said that even though he was also liable “he may be warned to be cautious in future”. Coming down heavily on him, the report said: “Since in the present case on account of interference by DM Basti, mining officer Ayodhya (Faizabad) has permitted mining…, it is an instance of arbitrary exercise of power in contravention of law.…”

While Raj Shekhar has gotten away with only a warning, others have not been so lucky. In an earlier case of illegal mining of minor minerals, a former district magistrate of Hamirpur, B Chandrakala, is facing heat from the CBI.

It appears that public servants, including bureaucrats, are undeterred by warnings and orders issued by the High Court. This blatant daylight robbery of the natural wealth of the Saryu is taking place despite the CBI raiding 14 places across UP and Delhi earlier this year in connection with the mining scam under Akhilesh Yadav, on the orders of the High Court. The Enforcement Directorate had summoned Chandrakala then. It was alleged that public servants had connived with other accused to allow illegal mining in Hamirpur over 2012-16. The accused were alleged to have granted fresh leases for sand mining and renewed existing leases, causing losses to the state exchequer while making pecuniary gains themselves.

The CBI registered a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act against the then Hamirpur DM, geologist/mining officer, mining clerk and eight others, including leaseholders. Then Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav held the mining portfolio, as did Gayatri Prajapati, a favourite of Mulayam Singh Yadav. The CBI, which filed 11 FIRs in the case, specified that Yadav and Prajapati will also be investigated. The CBI FIR said that Yadav had approved 13 mining leases on a single day in his capacity as chief minister and mining minister.

In July 2016, the Allahabad High Court had ordered a CBI investigation in seven districts of the state regarding illegal mining. The districts where this had been going on in violation of environmental laws, and despite a ban on mining by the NGT, included Shamli, Hamirpur, Fatehpur, Siddharthnagar, Kaushambi, Deoria and Saharanpur.

While ordering the CBI probe, the Court said that the affidavits filed by the district magistrates, stating no illegal mining was taking place in their respective districts, were “false”. The Court also dismissed as “eyewash” the submission of the principal secretary, mining, that a committee had been constituted to look into allegations of illegal mining.

Two months later, the state government moved an application pleading before the court that it withdraw its order for a CBI probe into the matter. Justices DB Bhosale and Yashwant Varma rejected the application.

In 2017, the High Court ordered suspension of two district magistrates— Rajiv Rautela and Rakesh Kumar Singh—for promoting illegal mining near the Kosi river during their tenure in Rampur. The order was passed by Justices DB Bhosale and MK Gupta. As far back as 2013, a young IAS officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal, was suspended by Akhilesh Yadav when she tried to stop illegal mining in Gautam Buddh Nagar.

That the mining mafia enjoyed political patronage was clear when Akhilesh Yadav refused to remove Prajapati from the mining ministry and by the fact that the government did not want to face a CBI inquiry.  In a judgment in February 2018, the Allahabad High Court categorically stated:

“(I) No person shall be permitted to excavate the minor minerals on the basis of the lease deeds or permission granted subsequent to 31st May, 2012 by whatever name it may be called. i.e. (a) renewal of the expired lease; (b) granting fresh lease; (c) right to excavate for the obstructed period; (d) extension of the term of the lease.

(II) It shall be the responsibility of the Collector, Senior Superintendent of Police and the District Mining Officer of all the above noted Districts to ensure that no illegal mining is permitted to be carried out within their territorial limits of jurisdiction.”

The Court also ordered that “the Collector of the respective Districts shall file their personal affidavits giving specific reply with reference to the photographs enclosed in support of the allegation of the illegal mining as well as to the averments made in respect thereof in all the writ petitions”.

In the case of the Saryu, the Monitoring Committee report stated that the river gets “divided into three streams before few kilometres of the sand mining area. One stream having less flow heads towards village Majha Barahta, Ayodhya”. The other stream with maximum flow moves towards Basti’s Majha Sitarampur, Harraiya. There’s a third stream of moderate flow which runs between these two streams. “Sand mining project is situated between the stream flowing towards Ayodhya and the mid-stream.”

Illegal sand mining is a nationwide menace spreading across almost all the states from J&K to Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh, to name a few. The greed for money is so overpowering that no measure to curb illegal excavation of minerals seems to be effective.

On December 29, 2017, a man identified as Shyamji Mishra jumped in front of Chief Minister Adityanath’s convoy in Lucknow only to draw his attention towards illegal sand mining on the Sonebhadra banks “under the patronage” of a BJP legislator and party official. He was forced to take this step as his earlier attempts to meet the chief minister were futile. It is not known if the chief minister intervened to stop the illegal activity. What is known is that he has left the holy Saryu for officials and miners to plunder.

People forget that there will be no Ayodhya without the Saryu.

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