Machines on the river bed: A case study of Teesta and Rongyong
Indiscriminate mining is choking parts of the Teesta and Rongyong in Sikkim
Rivers of Life – A journey through India’s Rivers’ is a 16-day program from Nov 02, that is seeing participation from leading conservationists and academicians to musical performances by folk singers from various parts of the country, is the first in a series of initiatives Azim Premji University plans to launch to shine a light on our relationship with nature and mounting environmental concerns demanding immediate attention. ‘Rivers of Life’ aims to depict nature in all its forms showcasing the splendor of our rivers through the vivid imaginations of young interns. Their work, intermeshed with generous contributions from civil society groups, come together to form a multi-layered narrative of the river. The exhibition will help students understand the lifecycle of a river, its civilizations, a source of livelihood, and biodiversity.
The Teesta is a Himalayan river that journeys through North Sikkim and West Bengal onto Bangladesh. The nearly 400 km long river is a lifeline for local communities and biodiversity of the region. The impact of hydropower dams in Sikkim has been the subject of several studies already, so, for my project, I chose to focus on a different but equally severe anthropogenic threat to Teesta and its tributary Rongyong — sand mining.
Sand is crucial to many economic activities, particularly the construction industry, which is growing as rapidly as the population. It explains why boulders, stones and sand are being rampantly — sometimes, illegally — mined from the riverbed of Teesta.
Just like the indiscriminate construction of dams and the irresponsible dumping of chemical waste by pharmaceutical companies, the unsustainable extraction of sand has severely affected the river’s ecosystem. Through on-site photo documentation, interviews with experts, people involved in mining, government agencies regulating these activities, river activists and civil society organisations, I highlight the drivers, incentives and impact of mining on the Teesta and Rongyong.
Previously, labourers drove sand and boulder mining by manual digging with shovels. Now, most of the extraction is done by machines. This large-scale activity is not just environmentally unsustainable, it has also affected the livelihood of the local community.
In the words of a fisherman, ““We’ve been fishing here for decades. There used to be [many] more species of fish [in the river], but now there are fewer fish due to dams and rampant mining.”
The labourer is equally dejected about the state of affairs: “The machines are making us lose the jobs we need to feed our families.”
Hopelessness, however, won’t save the Teesta and its tributaries. It is time the lifeline be given a new lease of life.
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By Pema Yangden, a student intern at Azim Premji University, the views/opinions are solely of the author and doesn’t reflect that of Sikkim Chronicle.