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DNA SPECIAL: In Nanded, an eye in the sky to mind illegal sand miners

Nagpur administration had used a drone for surveillance of sand ghats, an official from the Nanded collectorate said this was the first instance where a drone was used to crack down on illegal mining.

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DNA SPECIAL: In Nanded, an eye in the sky to mind illegal sand miners
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They are known to run a parallel economy, illegally extracting sand from rivers to feed the burgeoning construction industry, all while destroying fragile eco-systems and bribing or even attacking those who stand up to them.

However, these illegal miners may soon have to contend with an eye in the sky watching over them as the Aurangabad divisional commissionerate has deployed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to verify complaints of illegal extraction of sand from the Godavari river at Nanded.

A senior official from the commissionerate said they had received complaints about illegal sand mining, but when local authorities were asked for verification, they were "unable to find any evidence". This led to divisional commissioner Sunil Kendrekar ordering a spot inspection last week — but with the use of a drone. It revealed illegalities in sand extraction at Naigaon and Umri in Nanded.

While in 2016, the Nagpur administration had used a drone for surveillance of sand ghats, an official from the Nanded collectorate said this was the first instance where a drone was used to crack down on illegal mining.

He added that this use of drones was now likely to be replicated across Maharashtra. Their feed can be used for identifying vehicles transporting sand and detect if the sand excavation at permitted sites is being done manually or through the use of heavy machines, which is not allowed. The photos, which have a date and time stamp, can also be used to geotag the site that can be used as actionable legal evidence.

Sources from the Nanded district mining office said they had reports of over-extraction in Naigaon and Umri talukas. "They had permission to extract around 8,000 brass and 4,000 brass sand respectively over a three-month period, but officials were busy with the polls when the over-extraction occurred," said the official. One brass sand is equal to over 4.50 tonnes.

"Mostly, physical inspections take place at notified sand mining spots, but illegal mining zones are left out," he explained." UAVs can monitor such areas and they are safer than officials visiting the site," he explained.

After the inspection last week, local sub-division officers imposed prohibitory orders in the area where sand stocks were found and entry of empty heavy vehicles has been restricted. The police has been deployed and revenue officials, surveyors, and engineers will physically verify and measure if over-extraction or illegal excavation of sand has occurred.

"Though the final report is yet to be submitted, the team found illegalities in around 10 to 15km riverine area. This photographic evidence will help initiate legal action against the violators," said the official from the Aurangabad divisional commissionerate. He added that in case of lapses, action would be taken against local officers.

Another official said the Marathwada region had around 200 sand ghats, where mining was allowed but more sand that the permitted quantity was extracted and that illegal mining also took place on river banks and water bodies.
According to the state government's 2018 sand mining policy, illegal extraction is penalised with the stocks being seized and e-auctioned and the monies being deposited in the state treasury. For over-extraction, miners are penalised with five times the market value of the extra quantity. In Nanded, the market value of sand is Rs 4,175 per brass.

Big Business

  • Sand is classified as a minor mineral and Maharashtra earns around Rs 1,200 crore annually
  • Nanded has around 35 authorised sand mining spots, largely on the banks of the Godavari
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