|Nagpal: Impact woman
New Delhi, Aug. 5: India’s apex environmental tribunal today banned the mining of sand from riverbeds without environmental clearance amid widespread concern that illegal mining was hurting the environment and causing tax losses to the government.
The National Green Tribunal has demanded that administrators, police officers and mining authorities in all states comply with the ban on any mining activity or removal of sand from riverbeds that is done without approval from Union or state environmental agencies.
The tribunal’s order, issued today, comes in the backdrop of the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to suspend Durga Shakti Nagpal, an IAS officer who had cracked down on the sand mafia in Greater Noida. But it stems from long-standing concerns about illegal mining along the banks of the Yamuna, Ganga, Chambal, Gomti, Revati and many other rivers across India.
“Besides (violating the) law, the mining activity is being carried out on a large scale, causing (the) state revenue loss which may be running into lakhs of crores of rupees,” the tribunal’s chairperson, Justice Swatanter Kumar, and its other members said in their order.
The tribunal recalled that the Supreme Court had ruled last year that people or companies involved in mining in areas even less than five hectares too would require an environmental impact assessment clearance from a Union or state environment agency.
The Union environment ministry lacks the human resources to process the vast number of applications that may be received for mining under five hectares, and is hoping that environmental clearances for such applications can be granted by state agencies.
Sand-mining acquired the potential to become a contentious issue after the Union mines ministry 13 years ago notified ordinary “earth” as a “minor mineral under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957”.
The tribunal observed that the removal of sand and other minerals from riverbeds is causing a “serious threat” to the flow of rivers, forests along the riverbanks, and to the environment along the river channels.
An investigation by the non-government Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has revealed illegal sand-mining in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra.
The CSE, in a report in its publication Down to Earth, has said that Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had written to Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in October 2012 about the Supreme Court order. Chavan had said the requirement for environmental clearances for mining areas below five hectares was likely to lead to delays in the sanction or renewal of mining leases.
Natarajan, in her response to Chavan — sent in December 2012 and now available through the CSE website — had said her ministry had “no particular role to play in resolving this situation which has arisen out of the court order”.
She wrote that if the ministry of mines denotified “ordinary earth” from the list of minor minerals, the need to get environmental clearance to excavate it would no longer exist.
A group of ministers (GoM) meeting chaired by the Union finance minister in September 2009, which discussed fast-tracking large projects, had recommended the need for ordinary earth to be withdrawn from the category of minor minerals.
The GoM meeting had observed that the implementation of road projects had become “extremely difficult” in view of the court’s ruling asking for environmental clearances from the states. Natarajan wrote to Chavan that it was not known why the ministry of mines had not acted on this recommendation.