Illegal sand mining is said to have weakened the foundation of the bridge across Savitri river near Mahad, causing it to collapse, say activists. Earlier, it was reported that illegal mining of the Vaitarna river bed is endangering the railway bridge under Western Railways that is used by thousands of long distance commuters including the Rajdhani Express passengers. Callous government officials are turning a blind eye to rampant illegal sand mining, which is endangering bridges and lives of commuters.
The tragic collapse of the bridge at Mahad, which had been recently certified as fit has thrown the spotlight on the incessant illegal sand mining and dredging that is rampant in the region and across the state. Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation has written to the chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asking for a "full investigation into the possible role of sand mining leading to weakening of infrastructure such as bridges and endangering the lives of rail and road travellers”, which should include "previous occasions of bridge collapse and complaints filed by the Western Railway, Awaaz Foundation and locals at various locations".
In her letter Ms Abdulali writes that, "The Savitri River at Mahad is one of the many areas being misused to dredge massive quantities of sand. Sand mining sites even not directly next to the collapsed bridge, but when placed upstream and downstream of a bridge, may change the flow and increase the force of the river. Such changes could have contributed in washing away the bridge which has survived the force of nature for decades since the British era and was recently certified as safe.”
In 2011, a bridge at Vaitarna Creek was damaged due to sand mining at its base. The Western Railway wrote to the Government about the dangers of allowing sand mining to continue. In spite of this, a huge amount of sand continued to be extracted from the area”. Photographs take by Ms Abdulali below show that a Police chowky exists right next to the railway bridge where sand is stored in large heaps and mining continued for years directly at the base of the bridge.
Major newspapers too have reported that the illegal mining of the Vaitarna river bed is endangering the railways bridge on the Western Railways that is used by thousands of long distance commuters including the Rajdhani Express. The Railways have reportedly issued a warning in 2012 with no action from the State, and a second notice has been sent on 4th June, describing bridge number 92 as being in an "endangered condition” between Saphale and Vaitarna river due to sand mining. While the railways is merely sending out notices, without stopping service and the state remains indifferent, the lives of innocent people are at risk.
Ms Abdulali further writes, "Over the years, I have continued to monitor illegal sand mining sites in various coastal areas of Maharashtra. Many of these sites are in the vicinity or directly next to railway and road bridges. Sand mining in Navi Mumbai, Vaitarna Creek, Bassein Creek, Thane Creek and Savitri River all continue close to bridges and often using suction pumps.” Ms Abdulali provides photographs as recent as May 2016, of sand mining at Vaitarna creek and Mahad immediately next to road and railway bridges. Site visits since 2010 confirm that this activity has been continuous since then.
In her letter she further highlights that, “Recently, in spite of repeatedly bringing illegal sand mining to the attention of the State Government, Bombay High Court Orders and National Green Tribunal Orders to control sand mining and numerous complaints of local villagers and myself, the Maharashtra State Government has seen fit to permit sand dredging using suction pumps at some locations through a change in policy".
Ms Abdulali reminded the CM that she was attacked by the sand mafia at the Tol Bridge at Mahad in the same general area as the collapsed bridge. Unbridled sand mining in the vicinity of bridges may be a major contributing cause and cannot be ruled out. Awaaz Foundation requests that such investigation takes note of the various previous occasions of bridge collapse and complaints filed by the Western Railway, and locals at various locations.