Ever since its land mark judgment on February 27, 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) of India is not hearing any particular case pertaining to River sand mining regulation. In 2012 judgment SC had directed all Union Territories and State Governments to seek Environmental Clearances (EC) from Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for mining minor minerals even in less than 5 ha or renew the same after prior approval from the MoEF&CC. Before this order, mining areas of less than 5 ha were exempted from EC enacted under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)-2006.
On Aug 5, 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), has passed an important decision ordering a ban on sand excavation across the country without permission from State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and MoEF&CC. Further in November 2013, interpreting environment as Central Government subject and directing MoEF&CC to frame uniform sand extraction rules, the NGT prohibited State Governments to form mining rules separately.
Since then, in pursuit of compliance to aforesaid orders, NGT and the High Court (HC) in several States have been frequently directing respective Government agencies to facilitate sustainable River sand removal. In this context, these courts have issued a number of orders and decisions all through 2016.
In a major development in this context, the NGT in Sept 2016 issued notices to MoEF&CC on a plea that sought quashing of 2016 guidelines. According to report, formation of DEIAA and District Level Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC) under the 2016 guidelines required the appointments of four and eleven members respectively. The plea contended that composition of District EIA Authority (DEIAA) and District Environment Appraisal Committee (DEAC) reflected absence of environmental expertise as most of posts were administrative in nature thus lacking environmental knowledge.
Here is a State wise account of various other judicial orders passed in this year to strike compliance to said judgments and guidelines.
Jammu & Kashmir After noticing rampant mining in River Tawi and failure of the various State Government agencies, J&K HC on December 20, 2016 directed the State Government to file a status report on or before December 21 2016 highlighting the steps taken to enforce the directions, whereby mining had been banned from River Tawi. The HC further observed that no material record in respect of seizure of vehicles and other details were made available. The report also mentioned that construction close to Riverbed and dumping of debris in the River was also practiced.
Himachal Pradesh Taking note of illegal mining, the HC in August 2016 directed the State Government to file a status report on steps taken to curb the mining mafia and inform the Court on actions taken against officers who allowed the mining mafia to construct the road in River zones in Palampur. The Court also asked the authorities to explain the reasons behind collapse of the Kandrouri bridge near Indora on August 11, 2016. The Court held inaction of district administration responsible behind quarrying activities and collapse of bridge.
The HC had treated news report of rampant sand mining as a PIL. Following the judicial intervention the administration was reportedly working to control the illegal mining. The Government was also forced to impose a complete ban on illegal mining reportedly going unchecked under political protection and despite Government ban. According to news report, in the past two years, Government officers had remained apathetic to the mining mafia and large-scale mining was reported over 35-km stretch of Neugal River between Palampur and Alampur. It was further reported that the illegal mining was not only resulting in large-scale environmental degradation but also causing loss to the State exchequer as the mining material was being lifted without paying royalty to the State Government. Over 25,000 hectares was reported as affected by mining, quarrying and other constriction activities.
Uttarakhand NGT in January 2016 banned quarrying of stone and boulders from Gaula River in Kumaon. The ban reportedly spelled confusion among various stake holders who claimed it was meant on for mechanized quarrying. Further, taking notice of the contempt plea alleging continuation of illegal mining on Gaula River, the Green Court on April 02, 2016 ordered the Government to conduct an inspection of the site and furnish its report.
Following this, a team of officials from forest, mining and revenue departments inspected the Gaula River mining sites. Witnessing violation of various norms, a fine of Rs 10.46 crore was imposed on Forest Development Corporation, a Government agency responsible for regulation of mining. NGT again in June 2016 directed MoEF&CC and State Government to conduct an inspection on the Riverbed and submit a status report in two weeks.
The plea had asked NGT to quash the “forest clearance” the State Government had accorded in January, 2013 for collection of minor minerals from an area spanning 1,497 ha in 29 km stretch of the Riverbed from Kathgodam to Lalkuan for a period of 10 years. The 60-70 km long Gaula River originates from Padampuri in Nainital district and flows through foothills in Haldwani finally joining the Ramganga River about 15 km northwest of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh (UP). According report, it was the River in the State which added maximum revenue worth Rs 100 crores annually to the exchequer from the mining activity. But activists claimed that unchecked quarrying practices were posing a threat to the ecosystem which could eventually lead to massive incidents of landslides and soil erosion.
In Dec 2015, the NGT, while delivering its verdict on Ganga Revival plan, banned mechanized extraction of gravel from Riverbed between Gumukh to Haridwar. The verdict also directed Government to conduct legal mining in a highly regulated manner and under strict supervision.
GANGETIC & TRANS GANGETIC PLAINS
Yamuna River in Haryana & Uttar Pradesh The NGT on January 30, 2016 sought responses from the Centre, Haryana and UP Governments on a plea seeking prohibition of sand mining on Yamuna riverbed in both the States. The NGT also asked the Governments to submit details of all JCBs (mechanical excavator) and other earth mining machinery that were registered in districts of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar in UP and Karnal in Haryana.
The directions came while hearing a plea seeking directions not to grant ECs for mining by mechanized machinery. The petitioner had alleged mining of sand and minor minerals on Riverbed was being done by using heavy machinery contrary to terms and conditions of environmental clearance. It also claimed that mining in Yamuna was in violation of the order of the Tribunal which specifically directed both State Governments that no mechanical mining would be permitted on the Riverbed at any place after a plea alleged that some private firms were engaged in the activity and a temporary bridge was made on the River obstructing natural flow of water.
Further on February 18, 2016, while cracking its whip on illegal sand mining in Saharanpur district the NGT slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on five lease holders for carrying out excessive unauthorized mining resulting in damage and degradation of environment. The Court also imposed a complete prohibition on stone crushers and mining of minor minerals in Yamuna Nagar and Saharanpur districts and other villages situated on the floodplains of River Yamuna for a period of 45 days.
The NGT on June 01, 2016 lifted the ban on mining of minor minerals in Yamuna Nagar district, including the floodplain of the Yamuna. In its order the Court said that the mining leases, as identified in the comprehensive mining plan for the district, might be permitted to operate after obtaining all the requisite approvals.
In October 2016, NGT appointed committee in its report found evidence of large scale illegal mining and quarrying on Yamuna riverbed. The report highlighted that massive illegal mining could even change the course of the River making the adjoining villages vulnerable to flood disaster. The independent experts report also submitted that a large number of farmers opposed the mining or illegal quarrying because it affected their livelihood and farming practice. The team also found that even legal mining leases were violating several conditions imposed by SEIAA.
Uttar Pradesh Taking note of threat to an activist for filing case against illegal sand mining in Sambhal district, the NGT on May 26, 2016 issued notices to the Chief Secretary of State and SEIAA. On April 8, the NGT had issued a notice to the UP Government on a petition by Phirey Ram alleging that illegal mining was being carried out in the close vicinity of the Narora atomic power station and on the banks of Ganga and its floodplains in the area. Earlier, the NGT had sought a response from the UP Government on the plea which had also sought directions to the various concerned State agencies to stop illegal sand mining completely going on without obtaining EC and other required permissions.
The NGT on June 07, 2016 constituted a panel to probe the allegations of rampant illegal sand mining in Betwa River. The Court also directed the panel to inspect site where the sand mining was carried out along the River in Jalaun, Hamirpur districts and asked district administration to provide assistance to the Court commissioners as and when required. Further, perusing the inspection report the NGT on Sept 12, 2016 sought a detailed list of persons allegedly involved in illegal mining along the Betwa River bank in these districts.
Taking a grim view of illegal mining in the State, the Allahabad HC on July 28, 2016 directed the CBI to investigate the matter across the State, including the role of Government officials in facilitating the same, and submit a report within six weeks. The order was passed on a PIL alleging unlawful extension of expired mining leases by authorities. It was also alleged that despite there being no subsisting lease in favour of any person for excavation of minor minerals, specifically sand, excavation of minor mineral was being carried out by the sand mafia in collusion with the district authorities. Illegal mining in State was reportedly to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore per month.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the written explanation of Principal Secretary claiming setting up of a committee to look into illegal mining activities, the HC termed it as an eye wash. The Court also remarked that the affidavit filed by the Principal Secretary was “irresponsible” and “on wrong foundations”.
The HC on September 09, 2016 rejected State Government application for withdrawal of order directing the CBI to investigate allegations of illegal mining across the State. Following this, on September 11, 2016 the Mining Minister Gayatri Prajapati facing corruption charges in mining scandal was dismissed from his post. Prajapati had been given a clean chit by the Lokayukt some time back. Strangely, while corruption charges against him were being probed he was promoted and he was re-inducted to the post on September 25, 2016.
Meanwhile, after submission of inquiry report, the CBI on September 15, 2016 was learnt to be awaiting a certified copy of the latest HC order for further action. But in an unexpected move, the SC on October 10, 2016 stayed the HC Allahabad order, saying that it was passed without proper application of mind or examining preliminary enquiry reports filed by the CBI.
Madhya Pradesh In Jan 2016, the Bhopal HC continued reprimanding the State Govt for failing to stop and implement its earlier orders regarding on going illegal sand extraction from Sardar Sarovar and Maheshwar dams catchment area spread over Alirajpur, Dhar, Barwani and Khargone districts. Upholding its ban order, it questioned the basis on which the Govt and the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) had approved the mines. The HC order was given on a contempt petition lodged by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar, who submitted that sand mines were being run in the area despite a ban.
On April 29, 2016 the NGT expressed dissatisfaction about the information provided by State mining corp, Pollution Control Board, SEIAA over NBA allegation of on-going illegal sand mining in catchment and submergence areas of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in four districts. The NGT directed respondent deps to file a complete reply.
On September 16, 2016 NGT also asked the Government to comply with the guidelines prescribed in the Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines 2016 before issuing mining leases and licenses in the States. These guidelines were to be followed by the States in the matter of grant of environmental clearances by the District authorities and the State authorities. The Green Tribunal on July 25, 2016 directed Alirajpur district collector and SP to book people buying or trading illegally mined sand under the section liable for possessing a property transferred by theft. The sand was illegally mined from catchment and submergence areas of SSP in Alirajpur district.
On August 26, 2016 NGT refused to release vehicles caught carrying illegally mined sand from Narmada River. Making the owners of the vehicles witnesses in the case, the Court asked them to reveal the names of the people whom sand was being supplied. The Court further sought to know the amount of sand supplied and money earned during past six months by the vehicles. Taking some tough steps to check illegal sand mining, NGT asked the Government to install CCTVs at mining cites, monitor sand carrying vehicles with GPS and Bar Codes.
On Nov 11, 2016, NGT directed the Govt to submit a report on damage caused by release of vehicles impounded in Barwani, Khargone, Dhar and Alirajpur districts for mining sand illegally. In its last hearing, NGT in Sept called all four districts’ collectors & mining officers and directed them to take proper steps for checking and transportation of illegally mined sand and submit a report to NGT. According to ministry of environment and forests, a bond of Rs 50,000 should be deposited with administration before release of any vehicle involved in illegal sand mining. NGT was for past two years hearing the case of illegal sand mining in Narmada River on a plea filed by NBA.
NGT on June 01, 2016 slapped notices on Union and State Governments on a petition seeking a ban on illegal sand mining in and around the River Son, alleging that it spelled doom for the gharial population in Sidhi district. The illegal mining had reportedly affected the flow of water and the Gharial population were worst affected at Churhat, Khadbada, Piparohar, Akauri, Gaughat and Patpara in Sidhi. The petition said that the illegal mining was being carried in connivance with local authorities and police in the midnight. The sand mining was going on in the River Son in violation to SC directives of February 2012.
On June 22, 2016, KP Kansana, allegedly one of the biggest operators involved in illegal sand mining in Morena was sent to judicial remand. Grandson of a former Congress MLA was produced before HC, Bhopal after end of his police custody. Accused of thrashing toll booth employees in Morena on June 15, 2016 police had announced a reward of Rs 10, 000 for his arrest.
Maharashtra On Jan 08, 2016 the NGT directed State Government to ensure that no sand mining on riverbeds without prior EC. It also issued bailable warrant against Resident Commissioner of Maharashtra for non-appearance of officials from the State despite notice being served to them. Similarly, observing no decline in illegal sand mining from riverbeds despite a State wide ban, the NGT on May 07, 2016 asked the MoEF&CC and State Govt to inform it of the action taken against violators. The Bench also directed the State Govt officers to inform it via affidavit the actual status of mining across the State. The Court was hearing the plea of an RTI activist who has alleged that Govt had failed in curbing the use of excavator machines used for sand mining.
Odisha The NGT on February 25, 2016 directed the State Government to cancel all sand mining permits in the Brahmani Riverbed in Jajpur district. Restraining Tahasildar from issuing any temporary or permanent mining permit without ECs, the Tribunal directed him to take appropriate action against the violators involved in sand mining.
Gujarat The Gujarat HC on December 15, 2016 issued a notice to the State Government on a PIL seeking action against illegal sand mining in Rivers. The Court also sought details of authorized leases given to mining agents and steps taken for stopping illegal mining of sand in riverbeds in Surat, Navsari and elsewhere. Alleging non- formation and non-functional of district areas committee despite 2012 HC order, the PIL alleged that action was taken only against sand transporters but not against the real culprits who carry out illegal mining. The PIL also revealed that sand mafia blocked the water for mining in most of the 62 Rivers in the State.
Goa On April, 02, 2016 terming permissions granted for sand extraction as illegal the Congress threatened to approach the NGT. The party also said that as per Central guidelines, sand extraction leases were to be auctioned, however, in Goa they were granted without conducting any environment study.
West Bengal The Eastern Bench of NGT on March 11, 2016 ordered immediate closure of 28 sand ghats in East Singhbhum district for not having an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) and consent to operate (CTO). According to the report, only four out of 40 ghats were able to get both the ECC and CTO. Similarly, at State level only 335 of the 672 sand ghats could be issued ECCs till December 23, 2015 while the CTO applications for most were pending with the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB). According report, the department had earned revenue worth Rs 29 crore from sand ghats till February 29, 2016.
Andhra Pradesh The Southern Bench of the Green Tribunal on August 01, 2016 issued notices to State Government and all Districts Collectors following allegations of misuse of the recently introduced Free Sand Policy. Though, the policy allowed only manual mining yet the Court asked the Government to restrict excavators from using proclaims and dredging machines to excavate sand from Rivers across the State. It also banned the use of heavy vehicles and plying of vehicles on Riverbanks.
Andhra Pradesh & Telangana Similarly in December 2016, the Green Tribunal directed Andhra Pradesh and Telangana Governments to ensure prohibition of mechanical sand mining on Riverbeds across the both States. The Court also directed both the States to file affidavits of secretaries concerned on the issue of sand mining in major Rivers like Krishna, Godavari, Vamsadhara, Penna, Pranahita and their tributaries. The Tribunal gave time till January 25, 2017 (next hearing date) for the Secretaries of both Govts to file affidavits about Government-sponsored mechanical mining in riverbeds. The plea had also sought directions to formulate and place on record strategy to prevent illegal mining and a cumulative impact study on rampant sand mining in these States.
Karnataka The NGT on May 17, 2016 banned sand mining in the Rivers that fall under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas in Udupi district. According the report Rivers in the areas were mined flouting environmental laws and despite objections from local villagers. According to September 14, 2016 report, the stay on sand extraction, ordered continued till October 1, 2016. Meanwhile the people affected following stay order, condemned the lackadaisical approach of the district administration in representing the stance at NGT and decided to stage a protest rally. They also planned a bandh and march against Manipal administration.
The HC on July 18, 2016 ordered a notice to the Lokayukta police after hearing the petition filed by Sunil Bose, son of PWD Minister Dr HC Mahadevappa, and his accomplice Raju over a bribe case related to illegal sand transportation. The Court also ordered a notice to one Basavaraju, the complainant.
Tamil Nadu Seeking a direction to prevent sand mining in Tamirabharani river, on March 22, 2016 local activists moved the HC Madras and submitted that the sand mining was damaging the Iron Age urn burial site at Adichanallur a famous archaeological site that was brought to light in 1876. In the PIL it was alleged that miners were given contract to mine black cotton soil on the riverbed but they were carrying out sand mining operations flouting the guidelines. According petitioner the sand mining was threatening the two ancient temples Thevar Piran temple and Aravindhalosanar temple and a panchayat union elementary school and it was necessary to protect these structures. Admitting the petition, the Court on August 03, 2016 ordered notice to administration officials of Thoothukudi district.
The Madras HC on October 30, 2016 ordered notices to the State Government and to MoEF&CC seeking a direction to stop quarrying of sand from any of the Rivers in the State and also to initiate prosecution against PWD officials. The Court gave the direction on a PIL against River sand mining carried out by PWD engineers violating the rules. According to the PIL, the officials were carrying out the sand mining in the Rivers by using machinery while clearances were given by SEIAA only for manual mining.
The Court on December 13, 2016 dismissed the case filed by a sand lorry owners’ association, accusing the PWD of forcibly overloading trucks at quarry sites on the Kollidam riverbed in Tiruchi district after collecting money in excess of what the officials are authorised to charge. In its affidavit, the petitioner association claimed that the PWD sold sand to private lorry owners from primary yards located on the riverbeds itself, as well as from secondary yards situated elsewhere. Then on December 16, 2016 the Court sought reply from the State Government. The petition is still pending.
Summary There would be hardly any River in the country not damaged by unscientific sand extraction. Governments will and actions have been proved ineffective and inadequate. As a last refuge, various Courts in the country have been passing orders and directions, but we have yet to achieving sustainable sand mining in any river.
In 2016, the plea in NGT highlighting the lack of provisions in appointment of independent environmental experts in SIEAA and SEAC is key development. It is a key issue, but neither Central nor State Govts have ever shown any inclination in this regard.
Similarly, neither Governments nor Courts seem to addressing plight of people whose livelihoods have been affected by such mining. They are equally silent in considering potential of local communities in checking river sand extraction. The Free Sand Policy of Andhra Pradesh tries to address the issue, but AP govt credibility remains in question.
The respective HCs, including those of Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have been hearing the cases against rampant river sand mining. HC in Himachal has made administration take some effective measures to check quarrying of river beds.
NGT too has been dealing with the illegal extraction of Yamuna, Ganga and Narmada river beds in Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. The inquiry report by NGT set up panel into Yamuna bed extraction has revealed adverse impact of mining on River and local community, whereas the sustained efforts by NBA suggest more significant actions need to be taken against sand mafia in MP through NGT.
Possibly the most surprising and unexpected development in the year was stopping of HC Allahabad initiated CBI inquiry by the apex court of India.
As mentioned earlier, there is no lack of rules and laws for achieving sustainable sand mining practices across the country but the implementation of the rules and monitoring of the compliance to rules remain a lot to be desired, at the level of judiciary, MoEF&CC and respective State Governments. Also appointment of independent environmental experts in SEIAA, SEAC and ensuring the involvement of local communities in promoting controlled sand mining practices need action by the judiciary and Central Government. Unfortunately, the track record so far do not inspire a lot of confidence.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read first part of the series kindly visit, River Sand Mining in India in 2016
To read second part of the series kindly visit, River Sand Mining in India in 2016-II- Governments Show no Will to Regulate