September 8, 2015 1:24:14 am
To curb the menace of illegal mining of river-bed sand, governments of at least nine states have begun a crackdown on these miners by setting up flying squads, levying stiff financial penalties and initiating their respective policies to auction sand.
Sand is an essential input in manufacturing of concrete, which is needed by the construction industry. With the boom of the construction industry since early 2000, demand for sand increased manifold. This led to illegal mining of the mineral and its proliferation. The Supreme Court in the “Deepak Kumar vs Govt of Haryana” case in April, 2012, had concluded that a lot of damage had been caused to the environment by unregulated mining of minor minerals. The apex court had reasoned that there were loopholes which has led to this situation and ordered that pending framing of regulations to guide the environmental clearances of minor minerals, all cases of mining of such minerals —even if they are in areas less than five hectares — will require environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
Following this, certain states, based on the model rules designed by the Union mines ministry, framed their own guidelines governing environmental protection in case of mining of minor minerals. However, in August 2013, the National Green Tribunal held that environment is a Union subject and states are not competent to frame rules in this regard. A senior official of the Union mines ministry on Friday told The Indian Express that the penal provisions inserted in the amended mining law would deter illegal miners from carrying on their business. The amended law notified in March this year has allowed setting up of special courts to try offences pertaining to illegal mining.
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Crackdown by states
Karnataka has filed over 30 FIRs to combat illegal sand mining while Andhra Pradesh has realised Rs 390 crore from penalties imposed on illicit mining in 2014-15. The state has also formed women self-help groups for excavating sand and has empowered Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation to prepare feasibility report for environment clearance for sand reaches. The Chhattisgarh government has revised the ground rules for granting concession of minor minerals, while Himachal Pradesh has constituted flying squads headed by its mines supervisors at the district level and has made it mandatory to secure prior approval for stocking of sand. Gujarat has already imposed a ban on inter-state movement of sand and since the last two years the state has sold sand largely through online auctions.
The Jharkhand government is engaged in revising the royalty for river-bed sand to discourage its illegal exploitation. The state government has amended the minor mineral rules 2004 last year to make it compliant with the Supreme Court’s order and a directive by the National Green Tribunal. Kerala has allowed its exploration arm Kerala Mines and Minerals Limited and Indian Rare Earths Limited to mine beach sand minerals.
Madhya Pradesh, with 250 operational sand mines has begun auctioning the mineral in 33 districts since last year and for the remaining 19 districts has allowed sand mining by the MP State Mining Corporation. Maharashtra has framed rules for auctioning of sand mined from river beds, while Meghalaya has classified sand as a minor mineral and put its protection under its forest department. Orissa, too, has imposed similar measures in place as have been done by the governments of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Punjab.
Sand is classified as a minor mineral by the Union mines ministry along with clay, marble along with other minerals. Together these minerals account for over 12 per cent of the total mineral production in the country. Silica sand is used for making glass, a prominent industry in Uttar Pradesh. Other variety of sand is used for all grades of construction from ranging from buildings to roads. So, as economic activity expanded, its demand correspondingly rose.
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