In a coordinated crackdown on the notorious sand mafia operating in Bhima riverbed in different areas of Pune district, officials of the Revenue department and police have till now seized and destroyed over 80 boats used for sand excavation over the last two months.
Daund, Shirur and Indapur talukas of Pune district have numerous illegal sand mining rackets, especially in the Bhima riverbed. The riverbed is known to have good-quality sand, a commodity which is always in very high demand, mainly in the construction sector.
Over the last two months, the Revenue department and local police teams in these areas, along with officials from the Regional Transport Office (RTO), Forest department and District Mining department, have undertaken a coordinated crackdown against the sand mafia in these areas.
Superintendent of Police for Pune Rural jurisdiction, Abhinav Deshmukh, said, “The illegal sand excavation rackets are known to have multiple criminal activities associated with them. Right from the excavation of sand from riverbeds using boats, to illegal transport in trucks and the sale of illegally-excavated sand, there are criminal elements involved in each activity, and many are known to carry illegal firearms. In the first week of October, a meeting was held, where officials from the district administration, police, forest department, RTO and Mining department were present, and a coordinated approach to crackdown on illegal sand mining was discussed and is since being executed. Many of these areas are forest areas, and rampant sand excavation has impacted the ecosystem of these areas.”
Pune District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh told The Indian Express, “Considering the complexity of these illegal sand mining activities and the risks involved in taking action, an inter-departmental approach is always key. Not just inter-departmental cooperation but also inter-district coordination is extremely necessary and is being done, because many times the perpetrators cross the district borders and go into neighbouring districts, with the flow of the river. In coordination with other departments, we have also started deploying patrol boats to keep a check on these activities and all possible resources are being provided to take stringent action.”
As per the figures shared by Deshmukh, the Revenue department and police teams have together, in multiple and often high-risk operations, seized and destroyed a total of 82 boats used by the sand mafia for dredging and transporting the sand from riverbeds. Of these, 54 are from Daund taluka, 11 from Shirur and 17 from Indapur. Some people operating the boats were also arrested.
Explaining the modus operandi of the sand mafia, Deputy Superintendent of Police Rahul Dhas said, “The illegal sand excavators use two types of boats. One type is referred to as suction boats, which have suction pumps attached to them. These boats primarily dredge the sand from riverbed by way of suction. This sand, which has water content, is then transferred to larger boats made of synthetic material, which go to the riverbanks to load the trucks parked at some distance from the bank. These trucks then illegally transport the sand to their destination. We have observed that people who use the boats and excavate sand are often migrants from other states, their arrests don’t always lead us to the main racketeers. But we are taking concerted efforts to zero down on the main racketeers — the kingpins.”
Inspector Narayan Pawar of Daund police station, who was part of an operation led by Dhas in which 15 boats used by the sand mafia were seized and some persons were arrested, explained the risks involved. “Along with the obvious risk of the people involved carrying firearms, these operations are also tricky because of the terrain. The riverbanks have forests with dense vegetation, venomous snakes and other creatures. To lay traps, we are always required to wait in these areas for hours after dark. The racketeers also have a network, which keeps them aware of our movements, which we have to beat to succeed in these operations.”
Further elaborating on the coordinated crackdown, SP Abhinav Deshmukh said, “In the past, we have seized trucks which were illegally transporting sand. In many cases, these seized trucks were stolen by racketeers and in other cases, they were again brought back by the same racketeers. To avoid all these issues, it has now been decided that the seized sand will be sold off to contractors of government projects at regular rates. Now, along with seizing illegally transported sand, the focus is also on cracking down on the source of illegal sand mining. There is also going to be coordination with police forces in neighbouring Solapur and Ahmednagar districts. Above all, we are making efforts to nab main racketeers.”
A professor of Environmental Science at a local college, who has studied the issue of illegal sand excavation and its environmental impact, said, “These actions in the recent past are reassuring. It needs to be noted that this is a business that is killing our rivers, across not just Maharashtra but India. These actions will have to continue and shouldn’t just stop at the arrest of boat operators. The Revenue and police departments have the big challenge of not just fighting the sand mafia, but also the support they get.”
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