Sand mining in Assam's Manda causes erosion, locals demand intervention

Sand mining in Assam's Manda causes erosion, locals demand intervention

Sand mining from the Manda river has caused severe erosion, endangering villages in Assam and Meghalaya. Villagers have lodged complaints, prompting authorities to halt mining activities and conduct hearings.


Sand mining from the Manda (Dudhnoi) river, which has been ongoing for close to 2 months now, has left at least 7 villages straddling both Assam and Meghalaya in a precarious situation. Erosion has rapidly made many nearby areas unsafe for habitation.

The issue came to light following complaints by residents of villages such as Nokmakundi and Kakalipara, as well as Kasumari, who provided written complaints to the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara, Assam. These complaints were submitted not just once but twice, expressing concerns that sand mining from the middle of the river has made their areas vulnerable to river erosion.

The case follows closely on the heels of a recent visit by Assam minister Piyush Hazarika. During his visit to flood-prone areas of Goalpara on June 7, he directed officials to take action against soil erosion and ensure that protection work commenced along various areas of Dudhnoi in Assam.

District officials confirmed that mining permission had been provided for sand mining after an NOC was received from some people with a go-ahead from the Geological department to mine the area for sand. Interestingly, complaints over sand mining had emerged in 2023 as well, when the same villages had raised a concern.

What is interesting to note is that NOCs have been received from only one village comprising just a few households, while the impact of sand mining is being felt in both Meghalaya and Assam. At least 7 households across both states have been affected, leading to a joint complaint by villagers from both states to the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara.

According to villagers, the extraction of sand has been ongoing for close to 2 months and is allegedly being carried out with NOCs from certain local organizations and at least 2 locals residing near the extraction sites. 

“It is strange that the forest department that jumps at anyone cutting even one tree has allowed such free flowing, rampant extraction of sand from the Manda River to take place without even knowing the local impact on the environment. Even when we met them, they did not really have an answer. When this was taking place for so long and has already created such an impact, why did they not act on it,” informed a villager from Kasumari, on condition of anonymity.

A team from the forest department visited the village to meet with the villagers following their complaint to the Deputy Commissioner. Earlier, they were scheduled to arrive at 10:30 am to hear the villagers' grievances but arrived at 2 PM, by which time the village congregation had dispersed. They did not inform the villagers about the reason for the delay.

When asked about the delay, Das explained that they were delayed due to another incident that had occurred earlier that day. No effort was made to inform the villagers to ensure they remained available. The meeting was supposed to take place in Nokmakundi. 

“How can they really just take NOC from just one village to allow for such a huge operation when at least 7 villages across both states are impacted by their decision? We want them to stop the mining with immediate effect as it is causing irreversible damage to many places along the banks in both states. This just shows they were desperate to allow such an operation to take place without assessing what would happen,” informed Kasumari resident, Brayan Marak.

A visit to the affected villages showed many places, which were never in danger of being washed away, now getting close to the danger zone.
In 2023, attempts had been made by some to mine sand from the Manda River near the same place but a complaint to the DC ensured prompt action and seizure of such operations. This year though, the action has been slow and the villages are now faced with a situation that could turn dire at any moment. 

“We are scared of getting close to the bank of the river as it is fast eroding this year following the operation of at least 6 pumps to mine sand. Our area has always been a quiet zone but these operators have made life difficult. We even had to cut down many trees in fear as they could drag more ground near the bank. What is crazy is that they have no consent to operate from us,” informed another villager from Nokmakundi in Assam.

The ongoing fracas of sand mining has also affected the Manda Eco-Tourism Centre, situated at the riverbank. 

Upon being contacted about the issue, Khanindra Chaudhury, the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara, stated that following complaints, mining had been halted. He mentioned that the forest department was currently conducting hearings with locals regarding the sand mining lease. However, he was unable to provide information on the company that had won the bid for mining and the duration of the lease.

Chaudhury confirmed that mining had government consent but had been stopped due to villagers' complaints. "The mining and geological department approved the mining, but operations ceased after complaints arose," said the DC. "The forest department is currently conducting hearings with locals, and we await their report. Since this initiative is government-approved, we cannot abruptly halt operations and must await official sanction."

He also confirmed that a No Objection Certificate (NOC) was obtained from a village near the mining site before operations commenced. However, villagers expressed dissatisfaction, questioning why consent was not obtained from all affected parties beforehand.

"We have observed 15-20 dumpers extracting sand from our river daily. The pumps were installed in the middle of the river, between Meghalaya and Assam, causing the river to change course towards densely populated areas. These pumps operated continuously until halted due to rising river levels. We urge authorities to intervene swiftly and halt these activities. The increase in the riverbank is alarming," said Darmen Sangma, secretary of the Manda Eco Society.

Wind Marak, secretary of Nokmakundi, mentioned that extensive sand mining had exposed the foundations of an upcoming bridge in Kentra, North Garo Hills. This prompted a joint complaint filed with the Goalpara DC. 

"We appeal to authorities to take immediate action, or we will take to the streets in protest. Our lands are at risk from these activities, and we cannot remain silent," he emphasised.

Edited By: Avantika
Published On: Jun 17, 2024