May 22, 2017 / 11:50 AM / 3 months ago

Four killed in eastern India as villagers protest sand mining

BHUBANESWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four people were killed and two injured when dozens of villagers in eastern India clashed with workers mining sand, police said on Monday, in the latest such incident in the growing conflict over the use of sand in the country.

Villagers in Jatpura, about 260 km (160 miles) from Jharkhand state capital Ranchi, were trying to stop workers from lifting sand from a river bed when they killed one of the crew, said district police chief Alok, who goes by one name.

Police are investigating reports that the contractor in charge had opened fire first, killing three villagers, Alok said.

"We have arrested one person from the contractor's side. Police have been deployed in the village to maintain law and order," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India has a growing demand for construction materials such as sand to build roads, airports, malls and homes.

Despite laws regulating sand mining in most states, rivers and beaches are often dredged beyond safe levels. Bribing of local officials and police is common to mine beyond permissible limits, campaigners say.

Jharkhand in 2015 had banned sand mining in hundreds of river beds and made environmental clearances mandatory.

While the Jatpura contractor had a valid mining licence, excessive sand is being taken from an area that the village used for cremation, one villager said.

"If they take out all the sand, what will be left for us?" said the villager who asked not to be named as he feared retribution from officials.

Removing large amounts of sand erodes river beds and beaches, enlarges river mouths, destroys biodiversity, and exacerbates groundwater shortages and flooding.

Across India, sand mining has depleted fish stocks and made water unfit for agriculture, leading to loss of livelihoods. It has also caused landslides, which further erode coastlines and hurt communities that depend on the water for a living.

Writing by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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