Bengal struggles to rein in sand mafia

Operations in south Bengal are controlled by ruling party members, say opposition leaders

A key challenge facing the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal in its second term is controlling the sand mafia in south Bengal. Despite the government’s claim that it had cracked down on illegal sand mining during the previous term, the situation in Birbhum and Bardhaman districts has deteriorated considerably over the past one year.

According to local Opposition leaders, illegal sand mining has become not only a severe law and order issue in Birbhum but is also one of the reasons behind the factional feud in the ruling party.

These mines generate revenue to the tune of Rs. 70 crore and, according to the Opposition, are controlled by local Trinamool leaders.

Sand mining is not illegal in the State. The West Bengal Minor Minerals Rules, 2002, states that “no mining operation shall be done within a distance of 5 kilometres” of a river. The permits are issued on first come first serve basis. However, locals in Birbhum allege that this rule is violated all the time, with mining taking place on the banks of the Mayurakshi and the Ajay rivers.

Locals said that there were about 80 illegal sand mines in Birbhum, with 30 located on the banks of the Mayurakshi, and about 25 near the Ajay river. The sand is then smuggled to places such as Rajarhat in the North 24 Parganas, Durgapur and Asansol in Bardhaman district, and Baharampur in Murshidabad district, where the real estate is booming.

Fake permits

“The owners of these mines in collusion with a section of the district administration print fake permits for mining which results in revenue loss to the State,” said a senior district leader of the CPI(M).

However, Irrigation Minister Rajib Banerjee dismissed the allegations. “These are totally baseless and politically motivated. It is the TMC government that cracked down on illegal sand mining,” he told The Hindu.