January 21, 2021 2:20:10 am
IN A severe indictment of the Rajasthan government, a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) directed by the Supreme Court to look into sand mining has said the state tacitly participated in “the free-for-all loot of this valuable natural resource”, questioning the “liberal” grant of environmental clearances.
The Court had directed the CEC in February last year to submit a report on issues regarding sand mining faced by traders, consumers, transporters, the government and other stakeholders in Rajasthan, and to suggest measures to stop illegal sand mining.
The report, dated December 23 and submitted to the Court, says, “CEC has no hesitation in concluding that the issue of mining leases in khatedari (agricultural/revenue) lands has directly facilitated legalising extraction, transportation and sale of illegally extracted sand from the river beds in the state.”
It talks about an amendment to the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules by the government in December 2017 to grant short-term permits in khatedari lands for excavation of sand only for government or government-supported works, and adds, “Almost all the khatedari lessees have misused the e-rawanaas (transit permits) for removal and transport of sand illegally collected. Therefore it is imperative to ensure that all the khatedari leases involved in misuse of e-ravannas are cancelled with immediate effect.”
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The report also notes that 192 of the 194 mining leases on khatedari lands had been granted after the Supreme Court’s November 2017 order restraining river sand mining before a scientific replenishment study was completed and environmental clearance granted. “The 194 khatedari leases are agricultural/revenue lands which do not have deposits of quality sand suitable for construction… it is perhaps not accidental that most of the khatedari leases on agricultural lands have been granted in close proximity to river banks,” states the report, noting that 114 khatedari leases fall within 100 metres or less from river banks.
“This locational advantage near river bank has been purposefully permitted to be exploited by the lessees who evacuated sand from river bed, instead of from their lease hold area in khatedari lands, many times more sand than the quantity permissible in the mining plan/EC (environmental clearance).”
The report also criticises the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the delay in granting environmental clearances to holders of letters of intent in sand mine leases, saying this “prolonged impasse in legal mining” had led to “rampant” illegal mining of river sand.
The report states that the collection of sand in Rajasthan was about 57 MMT per annum in 2016-17 before the Supreme Court order restraining sand mining, falling to 5 MMT per annum in 2019-20. “According to the state government only about 25-30% of the demand is fulfilled from lawful mining activities. The resultant gap is the main driving force behind illegal sand mining,” says the CEC.
In its submission to the CEC, the Rajasthan Police has stated that between January 1, 2019, and September 20, 2020, 4,417 FIRs were registered in relation to illegal sand mining, with 5,044 arrested, and 1,58,637 tonnes of sand seized. The data reveals that 109 public servants were attacked in this period by the sand mafia, resulting in death of two, while attacks on civilians left 10 injured and three dead.
The police received complaints against 160 police personnel, while the anti-corruption bureau named 17 police personnel.
Last month, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that if there was one regret in his tenure of two years, it was unchecked illegal sand mining.
The CEC report suggests that no tractor that is not registered as a commercial vehicle be engaged for transport of sand from the mining site to the transit depot.
The recommendations of the CEC include termination of all the khatedari leases located within 5 km from the river bank as well as leases where violations are detected, and scrapping of the excess royalty collection contract system.
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