Environmental News from India:
- Illegal extraction of sand in the Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh is affecting the course of the Spiti river and, in turn, people’s lives.
- Over-extraction of sand can have dire impacts on river ecosystems. The Spiti river has changed course over the years due to illegal mining, inundating farmlands, and leaving many people landless.
- This video story displays the transformation of the river through the years while also narrating the plight of the residents affected and their demand for clarity in sand mining law to save their lands.
The Spiti Valley of Himachal is a trans-Himalayan desert where people survive on only one farming season. The Spiti river is the lifeline for agricultural communities in this region. But the river ecosystem is under threat.
The extraction of sand from the riverbed, which began primarily for local construction purposes, slowly expanded and has led to a change in the course of the river itself. Chhuldim Tengyal, a farmer, Rangrik (Spiti), shares, “Since the villagers started constructing concrete houses; people started taking sand from the riverbed. Because of that, the river has eroded the banks.”
Although some residents opine that some sand mining is necessary as the poor cannot afford to buy the cement for the construction of their houses, they state that over-extraction has had a heavy impact on the river ecosystem.
Sand supports biodiversity and filters contaminants. Explaining the ecological significance of sand in a river ecosystem, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Dean, School of Environment and Sustainability, Indian Institute for Human Settlement, says, “So, the work the river has to do in carrying sediments helps dissipate some of the energy that is already there in flowing water. Now, when you remove sand, which is an important part of the sediment from a particular stretch of the river, then there is less work for the river to do, and less energy that can be dissipated. And therefore, the extra energy that is now left in flowing water can, for example, erode deposits. It’s not just direct destruction of habitat in that particular region, but it can cause further destruction downstream.”
The rising demand for sand in the construction industry has caused severe social and environmental impacts. The river has inundated farmlands leaving many people landless. In 2019-2020, 8,360 cases of illegal sand mining were reported in Himachal Pradesh, according to a report from 2020 by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People.
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