MUMBAI: Taking advantage of the five day holiday in government offices in the State due to the Diwali festival, the powerful sand mafia have taken advantage of the same and have gone hammer and tongs to dredge sand from the Vaitarna creek which is just metres away from the railbridge of the Western Railway, that connects Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhopal and New Delhi. 

On 6 November, the District Collector, Palghar has declared a five day holiday due to the Diwali festival,which ends on Sunday, and during the holidays, the powerful mafia have dredged tonnes of illegally mined sand from the creek and shockingly, the spot is just metres away from the Vaitarna railway bridge.

Despite a ban on boat movement 100 m within the periphery of the railway bridge, the mafia have thrown caution to the winds and are dredging sand in a big way (see photos).  At any time of the day, fibreglass boats are seen dredging sand in the river,without paying revenue to the government. 

The illegally dredged sand are transported to villages like Tembhikhodave, Narangi and other areas and then sold to the builders at high cost,said Balkrishna Patil, a social activist from Virar who had a few years ago filed a PIL before the High Court in this regard.

The Vaitarna bridge in Virar built by the British, is the only rail bridge connecting Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, North India and express trains run on the bridge. The WR had many times highlighted the illegal sand mining activity to be controlled to the District Collector Palghar,and has banned boat movement activity within 500 m of the bridge, but the mafia continue to dredge the sand,said Patil. There is a heavy nexus between the sand mafia and the Revenue Department and worse, due to the illegal sand mining, the flow of the river Vaitarna has been altered,said Patil and is not a good sign for the health of the rail bridge. According to Patil, a truckload of illegally dredged sand fetches anything between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 as the sand quality from the riverbed is of good quality and illegal excavation is done using the banned suction pumps, and formerly the activity was done at night, but now it is openly excavated at day time,said Ramesh Patil, a resident of Narangi village in Virar. It is to be known that on  1 August,2011 around 25 feet of the bridge was washed away due to alleged sand dredging and an alert motorman of a Dahanu shuttle noticed the same and alerted the Vaitarna station master and traffic was stopped for five hours and a big tragedy was averted,said Patil. 


Dr Prashant Narnaware, District Collector, Palghar said we will resume to check the illegal sand mining activities from Monday, with police protection at the Vaitarna creek. In fact, we have formed village vigil committees headed by the local sarpanch to report on illegal sand mining and besides seizing the illegally mined sand, and levying heavy penalties on the dredgers, we have also destroyed the fibreglass boats, motors,suction pumps and other materials used for mining and we will continue to do so from Monday onwards,said the official.