10 April 20 Vietnamnet Global Source Illegal sand mining on the Da River in the northern mountainous province of Son La has become more and more serious in recent years.Son La Province had been looking at solutions to effectively handle the situation as well as protect its sand resources.
In Ta Bu Commune, Muong La District, there are many illegal 'sand gathering' sites where people sell illegally-mined sand.
The mining normally happens from February to May when the water level in the Hoa Binh hydro-power plant's reservoir on the Da River drops.
Nguyen Van Bac, vice chairman of the Muong La People's Committee, told Vietnam News Agency that "the illegal sand mining on the Da River was commonplace due to the lack of officials available to monitor it."
"Moreover, determining the origin of the sand was very difficult because most traders had legal receipts that proved they bought the sand from other regions," said Bac.
To handle the situation, the district had asked competent forces to intensify inspections and monitor illegal sand mining, transporting and trade.
Since June last year, local authorities have uncovered 29 illegal sand mining and trading cases and confiscated more than 100cu.m of sand.
The violators were fined VND100 million (US$4,000).
Further upstream in Mai Son District, there are a number of sand mines in Ta Hoc and Chieng Chan communes, which used to be a "hot spot" for illegal exploitation.
Transporting sand from Ta Hoc Port to Mai Son District has also caused serious damage to the provincial Highway 10.
Mai Son District authorities have taken several measures to handle the situation.
The provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment has been instructed to conduct sand reserve surveys and set up mining plans as well as organise bidding for sand exploitation licences.
So far, two businesses have been granted licences to extract sand from the Da River.
Their designated mining sites have been clearly marked to avoid illegal exploitation and ensure social security and order in Ta Hoc Commune.
"There has been no illegal sand mining in the commune since the two businesses were licensed to exploit sand on the Da River," said Leo Van Hoa, vice chairman of Ta Moc Commune, adding that police has kept close watch over any suspect or strange ships coming into the area.
A vehicle weighing station has been set up at Ta Hoc Port to oversee the loads of trucks transporting sand to reduce damage to the roads.
To enhance the State management of minerals, the district had set up special teams to inspect mining activities and ensure that laws on the environment, water resources, minerals and land are followed by organisations and households in the district, said Lo Van Bien, an official from Mai Son District's Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
However, handling the illegal sand mining still faced many difficulties.
One of the reasons is that illegal exploitation often takes place in remote mountainous areas, far from residential places.
Illegal miners also operate at random, so detecting and arresting them was difficult because authorised forces were not equipped to patrol the river frequently.
In addition, the awareness of people in remote areas about environmental and natural resource protection was still limited.
"We need to spread the word about protecting these resources," said Doan Van Hoc, head of Son La's Water Resources, Minerals and Hydro-meteorology Centre.
"Heads of districts must take responsibility for illegal sand exploitation in their areas," Hoc said.
Besides, investors of construction projects must make sure that the sand they are using is legal when the sand and gravel are proven to be from legal sources. — VNS