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The driver of a dumper carrying illegally-dredged sand tried to run over a constable after an impromptu police raid on the sand mafia in Virar. The incident highlights how illegal sand mining continues unabated in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, especially in its far corners, and how daring mafia members have become.

Palghar superintendent of police Gaurav Singh, along with constable Dinesh Patil (27), was headed for a meeting on Sunday night when, on the way, he saw a truck laden with sand. Singh stopped the truck and questioned the driver, who told him that the load was from a spot at Virar’s Khardi reti bunder. “When we reached the spot, I saw a number of JCBs moving about. I asked my bodyguard, Patil, to stop and question the moving vehicles while I and my driver, Rahul Dalvi, moved ahead to look for more vehicles,” Singh told TOI.

When Patil tried to stop a fleeing truck, the driver, instead of paying heed, forged ahead. Patil would have been run over had he not jumped aside in the nick of time.

Virar police later arrested the driver, Niraj Yadav

(29), and his associates Anil Chavan (26) and Sunil Chavan (20), for attempt to murder under the IPC’s section

307. They were also slapped with sections from the Land Revenue Code and the Environmental Protection Act. Also, an IPC section that is rarely used has been invoked in the case: the three accused have also been booked for destroying a public road as per IPC section 431 that deals with ‘mischief by causing injury to public road, brdge, river or channel’. The police brought in this charge as they found that the road leading to Khardi reti bunder had been damaged because of the constant movement of trucks filled with wet sand.

“I was shocked to find 62 sheds erected at the site. It seemed as if a full-fledged illegal business in sand trade was underway,” said Singh about the scale of the mafia operation. Two weeks ago, state revenue department officials had raided the same spot. Irrespective of that, operations had continued. “We had to call in reinforcements to continue with the Sunday raid,” Singh said. The value of vehicles and other material seized from the spot was put at Rs 2.2 crore.

In May, the UN, in its firstever report on sand mining, identified India and China as the hotspots for sand extraction impacting rivers, lakes and coastlines. The antisand mining campaign began in 2002 as a Mumbai-centric issue when a sand truck was first intercepted at Kihim beach in Alibaug across the city’s harbour.