A few years ago, the general refrain of the governments of various states, where illegal sand mining was increasing, was that it is due to the difficulty in obtaining environmental clearance (EC). According to the central government, even though it simplified the process of obtaining EC in 2016 by delegating the clearance granting authority to a district-level body headed by district collector, illegal sand mining continues across the country currently.
“It was the general refrain of the states that the rise in the cases of illegal mining of minor minerals, especially sand, is due to the difficulty in obtaining EC. However, despite the simplification of the process for obtaining EC for minor minerals as per the ‘Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines’ issued by MOEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) delegating this authority to a district-level body headed by DC (District Collector)/DM (District Magistrate), the instances of illegal mining of minor minerals including sand mining continues,” stated the Union mines ministry, in its agenda for the meeting of minor mineral producing states that would take place in New Delhi on June 16, 2017.
Sand mining is regulated by the respective state governments in India. Across the country, there have been major developments related to illegal sand mining recently. On Monday, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) held protests across Punjab on various issues, including the alleged prevalence of sand mining mafia in the state. On May 22, Madhya Pradesh government ordered a total ban on sand mining from the banks of Narmada river, which passes through 18 districts of the state. On March 2, as per the directive of Allahabad High Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered five preliminary enquiries over allegations of illegal sand mining in five districts of Uttar Pradesh.
To understand the existing system of sand mining in various states and prepare a sand mining guideline which addresses all concerns of this sector, the Central government decided last month to constitute a committee chaired by Arun Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Mines, along with officials from the state governments. The first meeting of this committee took place in New Delhi on June 2.
At this June 2 meeting, illegal sand mining was discussed prominently. Manohar Dubey, Secretary, Mineral Resource Department, Madhya Pradesh, told the committee that even though sand reaches across the state — including the ones located at the banks of Narmada river — have been put for online auction, “the rates of sand have gone up steeply”. Moreover, he added that “a lot of incidences have come to light where machines are being used for sand mining despite a ban on use of machines for mining in all rivers across the state”. Ultimately, Dubey informed the committee that the state is “reconsidering its sand policy” to ensure the availability of sand at “reasonable rates after conducting a scientific assessment of the mineable quantity of sand”.
Sand is a ‘minor mineral’ as defined under the section 3(e) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act). Section 15 of the MMDR Act gives complete powers to the respective state government regarding the formation of rules related to the grant of mining leases of minor minerals. Moreover, section 23C of the MMDR Act empowers the state government to frame rules to prevent illegal mining of any major or minor mineral. Minerals such as coal and iron ore are considered as ‘major minerals’.
According to the minutes of June 2 meeting, Ravi Kapoor, additional chief secretary, Assam, informed the committee that sand blocks were identified and “pre-embedded blocks complete with EC and mining plan” have been put up for online auction. “With regard to rampant practice of over exploitation and illegal mining in sand, he (Kapoor) stressed upon the need of the hour to take recourse to a total technology enabled system having no human interface for monitoring of sand mining with Geo-referenced leases,” the minutes stated.
The MMDR Act, 1957 was amended through the MMDR Amendment Act, 2015 which came into effect from 12th January, 2015.
Answering specific questions on illegal sand mining, Piyush Goyal, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for power, coal, new and renewable energy and mines, gave a written answer to the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2016: “The Amendment Act has stringent punitive provisions for combating illegal mining. Illegal mining has been made punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees per hectare of the area. Provisions have been made for setting up of Special Courts for the purpose of providing speedy trial of offences relating to illegal mining.”
At the June 2 meeting, R P Singh, additional chief secretary, Uttar Pradesh, suggested the use of technology, electronic transit passes and surveillance of transporting trucks for effective control of illegal sand mining. He also recommended using scientific tools such as bar codes, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, GPS (global positioning system) tracking for monitoring the movement of mined-out material from source to destination. He also informed the committee that Uttar Pradesh is considering grant of smaller sand reaches instead of large tracts of land to eliminate creation of “larger vested interests”.