Unauthorised sand extraction sites along the Yamuna in Greater Noida have been deserted in the past few days

The road leading up to illegal sand extraction sites along the Yamuna in Greater Noida now wears a deserted look. Where a few days ago, rows of trucks, tractors and dumpers were seen frantically ferrying sand to construction sites, jobless loaders now chat idly, chafing at the police crackdown that has forced their employers — the sand mafia — to shut shop.

In the past few days, the police have arrested around two dozen people and seized over 40 vehicles. This comes after a recent National Green Tribunal directive putting a nation-wide stay on sand mining along riverbeds without Environment Ministry clearance.

While one side of the road has around a dozen points leading to the river basin, the other side gives way to narrow unpaved approaches to nearby settlements where some trucks and excavators are stationed unattended. A couple of large stone crushers installed by the river side have also shut down, with large mounds of sand dumped at several places.

A villager said the sand mafia operated in the dead of the night to evade detection and there was little possibility of getting a hold of them during the day. “They have also got rid of the stock to avoid legal action,” he said.

“Sorry, you will not find anyone selling sand here right now. While many operators have been driven away by the police, the others have gone underground fearing action. You will have to travel some more distance towards the river to find out whether there is still anyone digging sand,” said one of the labourers on Wednesday, directing The Hindu towards a narrow lane at the end of the road.

The 2-km rough drive off the main road started with huge farmhouses and nurseries located on both sides. Tracks of heavy vehicles — probably tractors and trucks — were seen on the muddy potholed stretch suggesting that the route had been used to transport sand extracted from the adjoining river. Although a light vehicle could not proceed beyond a point owing to poor road conditions, heaps of sand were found dumped inside a gated complex not far from there.

Following a public outcry over the suspension of Gautam Buddh Nagar (Sadar) Sub-Divisional Magistrate Durga Shakti Nagpal — who had launched a drive against sand and land-grabbing mafia in the district — the police say they have further intensified action against those involved in the illegal trade. Nearly 130 cases have been registered and around 160 people booked since January, besides 200 vehicles have been impounded.

The controversy has also led the other agencies concerned to initiate inquiries into the allegations of rampant illegal sand mining in the region.

A 10-member team comprising officials of the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Indian Bureau of Mines on Wednesday visited several villages, including Raipur (where a 52-year-old man was allegedly gunned down by the sand mafia a week ago), Kondli, Akbarpur, Nangli, Mangrauli, Chaprauli and Gulawali as part of an inquiry into illegal sand mining activities. The team comprised members of a committee appointed by the Environment Ministry on Wednesday.

The fact-finding team clicked photographs and video-graphed the spots from where sand was allegedly being extracted. It is learnt that the suspended mining inspector, Ashish Kumar, who assisted Ms. Nagpal in the operations against the sand mafia and was transferred out a couple of days before she was suspended on the night of July 27, also accompanied the team to the villages. During the visit, the team also interviewed the villagers.

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