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Society | Illegal extraction of sand fuels violence

Society | Illegal extraction of sand fuels violence

On January 10, 2020, Chandrakala Devi Mahato was in bed when neighbors came knocking at her door. “The crusherwalas killed your son,” they said. Mahato ran to the banks of the river to find her son Dilip lie motionless.

Dilip and his friends had tried to stop a group of people from extracting sand from the river. When they were attacked, his friends managed to escape, but Dilip was not as fortunate.

The incident that took place in Sreepur, Mithila Municipality-5, Dhanusha 17 months ago shows that the extraction of sand and other construction materials from the Chure region is no longer just about natural resources, but also about mushrooming crime in the region. 

Contractors are illegally mining the Chure and Bhawar region of the country and those who try to stop them are greeted with pistols and khukuri. Many people who raised their voices against the exploitation of natural resources have met with a fate similar to that of Dilip Mahato.

"The illegal exploitation of Chure’s resources is an epidemic just like Covid-19," said CPN-UML Mahottari district member Ram Hari Khatiwada.

Sreepur is located in the Bhawar area of Chure, where rivers are both a lifeline and a threat. The over-extraction of sand and other aggregates from the river has caused water shortages in winter and exacerbated floods during the rainy season. 

When Dilip's father Ramjivan was in class nine, he had to abandon his studies as he needed to work in the farm. He had dreamed of making his son Dilip an engineer. Ramjivan's dream was shattered by his son's murder.

"The government should declare Dilip an environmental martyr," said Dilip's father. "He sacrificed his life for the protection of Chure."

Under the patronage of political parties and leaders, mining has boomed in Chure. Former President Dr Ram Baran Yadav is worried as Madhes is in crisis and urges everyone to save Chure.

Mahesh Jha, Congress leader from Bardibas in Mahottari, says few people, including journalists, dare to speak, write and debate on the illegal extraction of the river beds. "Anyone who speaks out against them is in danger,” he said.

If the illegal activities of Chure exploitation are not stopped, it will deeply affect life in the Terai. The Terai, located on the banks of the rivers that originate in the Chure, is home to 50 percent of the country's population.

Bardibas Municipality decided to allow contractors to dig the Ratwa river bed using heavy machines such as excavators, rejecting the law made by the federal government. There is strong opposition to it now.

Although the municipality signed a contract to excavate the river after conducting an environmental impact assessment, the contractor has violated the rules and the municipality is turning a blind eye to it.

Giriraj Mani Pokharel, a member of the House of Representatives from Mahottari-1, has demanded that illegal excavations be halted at the earliest.

According to engineer Nagdev Yadav, excavation of the Bhawar area of Chure has made Madhes even more insecure. Most of the plants are operating in the Bhawar area of Chure. The Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Environment of Province 2 set the criteria for the operation of extraction plants by approving the 'Procedure for Establishing and Operating Stone, Ballast, Sand Excavation’. However, most plants operate without meeting set standards.

Chure expert Vijay Singh said, “The area up to 10 km south of Chure is heavily excavated. The Chure hills cover 12.78 percent of the total area of Nepal. ‘Chure are the youngest mountains in Nepal. The unscientific exploitation of Chure is increasingly turning Madhes into a desert,” he said.