Observing that sand smugglers use muscle and money power to create terror and their action of theft of sand affects the water table and availability of water for drinking and irrigation purposes, the Bombay High Court recently upheld a detention order passed by the district magistrate of Jalgaon, which had prevented a sand smuggler “from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”
The order passed by the district magistrate in March 2016 under The Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Dangerous Persons, Video Pirates, Sand Smugglers and persons engaged in Black Marketing of Essential Commodities Act, 1981, was challenged in the High Court by a friend of the alleged sand smuggler.
Stating that public order is synonymous with peace, safety and tranquility, and the emerging trend of rampant theft of sand is leading to direct threat to the public order, a bench of Justice V K Tahilramani and Justice Mridular Bhatkar observed that sand is required to be preserved in public interest.”
“It is noticed that there are grave repercussions of excavation and rampant theft of sand from the river banks which affects the locals as the water table and water level goes down. This affects the public in general and more particularly farmers. It is noticed that sand smugglers on the basis of muscle and money power create terror in the vicinity and they are a menace to the public order. The sand smuggler who is involved in theft of sand and on account of sand smuggling, the water available is reduced. The ecological balance is disturbed. This leads to great scarcity of water for drinking purposes and for irrigation. There is monetary loss to farmers and other citizens in the area (sic),” said the High Court.
Pointing out that people in the area knew about the activities of the sand smuggler and were living in a state of fear, the court held, “All this amounts to disturbance of public order. To protect the interest of the public in such cases, the legislation has amended the definition and incorporated ‘sand smugglers’ in the Act. The detaining authority has rightly considered the situation, the nature of offences and the nature of its effect on public order and has passed the order,” said Justice Tahilramani.
In the present case, the sand smuggler used to commit theft of sand from river Girna and if anyone stopped him, he used to threaten not only the public but also government officials, and on occasions, used to assault them. His act of stealing sand from the banks of Girna tended to lower the water table and thereby caused drought conditions.
The detention authority had depended on the statement of two in-camera witnesses regarding threats and assault in relation to theft of sand by the sand smuggler. The detention order was challenged on the grounds that the detention authority acted on the orders on the same day as it was passed by the magistrate. According to the lawyer appearing on behalf of the sand smuggler, there was not sufficient time for the Detaining Authority to properly apply its mind to the facts of this case and to issue the order of detention. The court, however, ruled this out and said the detaining authority verified genuineness and truthfulness of the statements of both the in-camera witnesses recorded earlier.
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