Illegal extraction of sand, gravel poses eco risks

Rising prices of pebbles, sand and gravel have fuel their illegal extraction in Chitwan, Nawalparasi and Rupandehi districts raising the risk of serious environmental degradation and affecting tourism activities.

Locals reported that the haphazard extraction of these materials for commercial purposes has posed a serious threat to the environment and wildlife habitats besides affecting the government’s revenue collection.

Illegal extraction has been reported in the Chitwan National Park area, Chure region of Nawalparasi and some areas of Rupandehi district. More than a dozen tractors and tippers are being used to ship the smuggled construction materials. Each tractor makes at least six round trips a day.

The tractors used for extraction of the construction materials have damaged tracks in the wetland areas used for jungle safaris. Likewise, the use of heavy equipment to extract sand and pebbles has led to the formation of pits in the wetland areas endangering the lives of one-horned rhinos.

As per the Forest Act, local people can extract these materials for household use in line with the set standards. Kamal Jung Kunwar, conservation chief at Chitwan National Park, said they had issued licences to extract the materials only for household purposes.

The number of tourist arrivals had been increasing significantly in Meghauli along with a rise in the population of endangered birds, rhinos and tigers.

On Wednesday, a tractor with registration number Lu 1 Ta 4999 was seen being loaded with boulders on the banks of the Rapti River. Tractor driver Santosh Mahato and four workers was loading the materials. The area used to attract tourists for elephant safari and bird watching, but visitors have become a rare sight now. Nowadays, tractors and dump trucks are seen on the river banks.

Not only wetland areas, the road leading to Meghauli has also been damaged by the movement of heavily loaded tractors. The local people have been frequently complaining about the rise in such illegal activities as they fear that they will affect wildlife movement in the area.

Manesh Limbu, a tourist guide, lamented that the rampant extraction of gravel had harmed natural resources. “Loud noise, pollution and illegal extraction have aided environmental degradation and deforestation,” said Limbu, adding that if such activities were not stopped, they would have an adverse affect on wildlife habitats and the local people who depend on tourism for their livelihood. Limbu said that mass movement of vehicles for sand and pebbles extraction had also affected the wildlife breeding season in the wetland areas. “Although we have informed the national park about the growing activities, the authorities have turned a deaf ear to our pleas,” he said.

Shyam Adhikari, chairman of the Meghauli Wetland Consumers Committee, said they had received complaints on the issue. However, he said that local people could have been collecting the materials for construction purposes.

Although the authorities have been allowing local people to extract the materials for personal use, it has been reported that most of them are extracting materials for commercial purposes. “Most of those who are engaged in collecting materials have their own houses,” a local said.

Despite the committee’s claim that the materials have been extracted for household purposes, there was a confrontation recently between committee members for extraction permits.

Meanwhile, contractors have also been reported to be extracting the materials illegally from restricted areas in Rupandehi district. Locals have filed a complaint against Rayamajhi Construction for extracting materials from cultivable land in Suryapura village development committee and Tilottama Municipality in Rupandehi. Locals have accused the police and the Rupandehi district development committee of being involved in illegal extraction .

Similar cases of illegal extraction have been reported from the Chure area of Nawalparasi district. Recently, the police seized two tractors loaded with smuggled sand and stones and handed them over to the district development committee. Ghanashyam Giri, a local of Dumkibas, Nawalparasi, said that 20-30 truckloads of materials were being shipped from the Binay Khola in the Chure region daily.

Source: ekantipur