Residents of greater Bengaluru’s Sarjapur locality who are planning to organise an awareness march for the community on Tuesday regarding the illegal sand mining in the region are now allegedly being threatened with violence. Citizen activists who had been taking up the issue with various government and civic departments over the past few months say that even village elders who were distributing pamphlets door-to-door were not spared the intimidation. The march is set to start from Sarjapur Ground behind the bus stand to the Doddakere Lake with the objective of making every resident aware of the importance of these water bodies.
Over the past month, the rampant sand mining in the lakes in the region, including the largest water body in the Bellandur-Sarjapur region – Doddakere Lake, has been exposed by concerned residents.
Anil Reddy, a senior resident who is part of the lake rejuvenation program, said, “Some goons came and told me not to ask people to join the march. He told me he will also see and make sure there are no people tomorrow. He warned me saying if we go ahead with this, they will see what to do.”
Voice of Sarjapura, a citizen’s collective working to restore the unchecked environmental damage in the area, had found the Doddakere Lake dug as deep as 50 feet during an inspection with Panchayat members on October 14. For long, residents have been complaining that the quarrying activity, which happens mostly under the cover of darkness, has not only caused sound pollution in the night but has also damaged the roads in the area due to frequent movement of heavy vehicles.
“The perpetrators are so brazen that they had put up a CCTV camera at the lake to keep a check on each activity at the lake. When we visited, the sight was nothing less than that of a mini-Ballari compared to what used to be a lake full of water. The police took action only when the awareness drive was all over media,” one member of Voice of Sarjapur said.
The activist added, “Many people who are in favour of the mining mafia joined our drive as ‘informers’ but now they are discouraging us from carrying out Tuesday’s march saying ‘what is the need for it as there is no more mining’. Our drive is to ensure that all concerned officials are held accountable. We are sure that every department (police, panchayat, minor irrigation and revenue) has people benefitting from the mining activity.”
Curiously, when alerted, the police, who have allegedly been aware of the illegal activity over the last decade, came to the spot and seized two earthmovers but did not arrest the operator nor name any person in the FIR.
Constant follow-up with the police hierarchy in this regard has resulted in an interdepartmental enquiry, at least on paper, against a sub-inspector of Sarjapur Police Station, officials said.
SP of Bengaluru Rural, TP Shivakumar, told TNM, “A total of four cases have been registered. We have fenced the entire lake and the situation is under control.” However, he did not confirm if an interdepartmental enquiry was indeed initiated against Sarjapur Police Station officials.
Other than illegal sand and bauxite mining, these lakes are illegally turned into real estate plots, which are in demand due to the presence of several big IT companies in the vicinity. In March 2017, a lake rejuvenation drive by residents was stalled after politically influential muscle men, including those in the Yamare Panchayat of the area, successfully threatened the residents off their drive.