Bulk collection of sand and its transportation in violation of rules that restrict it — sand is a minor mineral — continue despite the crackdown by the state government on the “sand mining mafia”. The state is now getting ready to roll out its ambitious system to keep track of sand transportation to prevent illegal sand mining. It seems to have a tough task ahead, going by the penalty imposed on rule-violators from April to December in Pune district alone in 2014. There were 229 cases registered from April to December and nearly 1,007 vehicles ferrying sand illegally were impounded in the same period. Fines collected for illegal sand mining and ferrying has been put at Rs 8 crore till December in the current fiscal and officials fear only an effective system can check it.
“We have been strictly monitoring activities… special squads have been asked to step up drives against nefarious activities. However, with action restricted to impounding vehicles and imposing a penalty, illegal activities continue. In this context, the state government’s GR on introducing a tracking system to prevent vehicles from ferrying sand illegally is a good initiative that will help track vehicles,’’ said an official from the district administration.
Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse, reviewing the issue last week asked the district administration to press into action more teams to monitor “nefarious activities” thoroughly especially on weekends. “We have been asked to control the menace of illegal sand mining and have asked for an upgrade of the machinery to control this activity,’’ said District collector Saurabh Rao. With even the National Green Tribunal taking note of the illegal activity, the administration has worked out a detailed plan to carry out the special drives.
Environmentalists have time and again pointed out that even as State Environment Appraisal Committee clears sites for sand mining, “unauthorised mining” continues rampantly especially in Pune district. “There are guidelines for lifting sand from the river bed. They are not being followed and in turn harming the riverbed. There are cases of underwater mining that have surfaced. Following excavation under water, habitual offenders burn their boats after fitting suction machines to extract sand,” said an official from the environment department.
This year, the government cleared 139 sites for sand auction of which 39 have been recently completed, but the sand mafia continues nefarious activities at these sites and others as well, pointed out the official. Clearance for sand excavation has been given for sites in Haveli, Junnar, Khed, Baramati, Purandar, Indapur, Daund and Shirur talukas in the district.
For mining, the total sites in district is 756 of which environmental clearances are pending for 302. Among them, 250
are closed mines.
Last year there were 915 cases of illegal sand mining and penalty collected was Rs 1.92 crore. The total amount collected from fines and from impounding of vehicles was Rs 84 crore.
Officials feel the state government’s initiative, to be implemented by mahaonline, may set things in order. “It is supposed to be implemented this year and we are working towards it,’’ said officials from the mining department. The new system, according to the December 24, 2014 GR to check illegal sand mining will use mobile phones and is called Sand Mining Approval and Tracking System (SMATS). It will be mandatorily implemented in the state from 2015-16.
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