|A barge filled with illegal sand exploited from the Saigon River in Cu Chi District in HCMC (Photo: SGGP)|
At midnight on May 26, a Sai Gon Giai Phong reporter was present at the river’s bank in An Nhon Tay Commune in Cu Chi District in HCMC. He found the area abuzz with noisy machinery involved in dredging sand.
Six boats were anchored near the river’s edge. Each was filled with sand every half hourly interval. After transporting the sand to a spot in Ben Cat District of Binh Duong Province, the boats returned for yet another refill.
Within just two hours, the sand dredgers had filled 24 boats, each transporting 9-10 cubic metres of sand.
A local man told that dredgers always tasked some people to keep watch along paths leading to the river. In case of inspectors arriving unexpectedly at the scene, they would call their accomplices and timely warn so as to switch off machines and make a quick get away.
The illicit sand exploitation has taken place in other communes like Trung An, Phu Hoa Dong, Phu My Hung, Ben Dinh, An Phu and Hoa Phu in the district.
Illicit sand is usually transported on barges to Phu Hoa Dong Commune for sale.
A director of a construction company in Tay Bac Industrial Zone in Cu Chi District, said that illegal sand has been transported to the commune to sell to Tam, the husband of an official in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in the district.
Unchecked sand exploitation has depleted the river’s sand reserve and resulted in several landslides. Over 76 kilometres of the Saigon River bank in Cu Chi District has suffered bad landslides, sweeping away several dyke sections and inundating fields of crops.
Local farmer Sau Hoa said that his rice field has become part of the river due to landslides, and his fruit orchard is filling with cracks-- signs of impending landslides.
Tens of other households are also falling under the same condition, he said. Local residents have often complained to authorities to stop and prevent illegal exploitation of sand but nothing has come of it.
Nguyen Van Teo, deputy chairman of the People’s Committee in An Nhon Tay Commune, said that they have tried lots of measures but still failed to stop illegal sand exploitation in the Saigon River.
The commune’s river area is neighboring Tay Ninh and Binh Duong Provinces. When uncovered, the dredgers quickly move to areas under management of the two provinces. HCMC officials thus cannot nab them, said Teo.
Nguyen Thanh Nguyen, head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Cu Chi District, said that they don’t have enough human resources to deal with sand dredgers who always seek out sophisticated ways to flee.
For instance, they open valves to let water flow in and sink their boats. Some even use arms to resist officials.
Mr. Nguyen said that the department would coordinate with riverside districts in Binh Duong and Tay Ninh Provinces as well as the city’s environment police force to deal with illegal sand dredging.
Besides, he proposed that authorised organs must increase the fine against sand miners as the current rate is too low, about VND15 million at the most.
The department will verify information about the man named Tam and handle any violations uncovered, he said.