In a move that is likely to clear the way for the resumption of legal mining of riverbed sand in the state after a gap of four years, the Supreme Court on Thursday approved for implementation most of the recommendations made by a Central Empowered Committee (CEC).
The Court had directed the CEC in February last year to submit a report on issues related to sand mining faced by traders, consumers, transporters, the government and other stakeholders in Rajasthan, and to suggest measures to stop illegal sand mining.
Legally mined riverbed sand has been scarce in Rajasthan after a November 2017 Supreme Court order restrained all the 82 sand mining leases in the state from carrying out mining activities in the absence of environmental clearances and a scientific replenishment study.
In its report, the CEC recommended, “River sand mining in Rajasthan is permitted to be conducted after obtaining all statutory clearances and payment of dues and applicable taxes.”
In its judgment, the court also approved another recommendation of the CEC — the termination of khatedari leases (sand mining leases on agricultural land) which are located within 5 km from the river bed.
The apex court directed the CEC to follow the directions given by the NGT in respect of imposition of penalty/determining scale of compensation for illegal mining and the provisions of the 2020 Sand Mining Guidelines and determine the penalty/compensation afresh and submit a report within eight weeks.
“Unabated illegal mining has resulted in the emergence of sand mafia who have been conducting illegal mining in the manner of organized criminal activities and have been involved in brutal attacks against members of local communities, enforcement officials, reporters and social activists for objecting to unlawful sand excavation. The statistics provided by the State Government highlights the magnitude of the problem as about 2411 FIRs have been registered in relation to illegal mining in the State of Rajasthan, between 16.11.2017 and 30.01.2020,” the Supreme Court said.
Advocates said the judgment will likely pave the way for legal sand mining activities to resume in Rajasthan.
“My argument was that please let us start legal mining in our state. There is a huge demand-supply gap. Illegal mining has been taking place since the last four years and in absence of legal mining there is a mafia which is operating. Legal mining will also lead to the state earning huge revenue in the form of royalty and the law and order situation will tremendously improve. We also said that legal mining will lead to the consumers getting the sand at reasonable prices as opposed to what is happening now. The state has to comply with all environmental standards,” senior advocate Manish Singhvi, who appeared on behalf of the state of Rajasthan, told The Indian Express.
In recent times, the illegal mining of sand has come up as one of the biggest challenges faced by the Rajasthan government, with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot acknowledging the problem on several instances.
The CEC, in its report, had slammed the Rajasthan government, and had gone on to say that the state had tacitly participated in “the free-for-all loot of this valuable natural resource”, questioning the “liberal” grant of environmental clearances.