The Supreme Court will examine if inaction by the Centre and states is promoting illegal sand mining in the country.
A bench headed by Justice S A Bobde on Wednesday issued notice to the Centre, five states and the CBI on a plea which alleged that “inaction” on their part had resulted in sustainable mining practices not being implemented, lack of an effective mechanism to curb illegal and indiscriminate mining and rampant growth of such illegal operations.
This, said the petitioner M Alagarsamy, violated the citizen’s right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution and Article 41 A, which entrusts the state with the responsibility of protecting and improving the environment and safeguarding forests and wildlife. He also sought a direction to the CBI to register and investigate cases of illegal mining.
Sand is a ‘minor mineral’, as defined under section 3(e) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act) and hence, states are responsible for cracking down on illegal mining practices, the petition pointed out. The states to which notices have been issued are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
The petition, filed through Advoate Pranav Sachdeva, cited news reports and said a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by a senior IAS officer had found “illegal mining of 1 crore metric tonne of beach sand from Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts by 52 leases in the State of Tamil Nadu.”
In Andhra Pradesh, which has nine rivers flowing through it, sand reaches are allotted in all the river basins, it said, adding that indiscriminate mining was rampant in all the districts.
According to the petition, Maharashtra recorded 1,39,706 illegal mining cases between 2013 and 2017 which was the highest number of cases in the country. The plea cited news reports of data submitted by the Union Environment Ministry in the Rajya Sabha. The state, however, had one of the lowest numbers of prosecutions in such cases, it adding pointing out that only 712 FIRs had been filed so far and only one case in in trial.
In Madhya Pradesh, a total of 42,152 cases of illegal mining for major and minor minerals were registered from 2009 to 2015, it added. Punjab reported 5,549 criminal cases of illegal mining between 2013-17, it said. However, the state police is yet to submit challans in 2,277 cases in various courts, the plea said.
The plea accused the respondents of violating the top court’s earlier direction that mining leases and environmental clearances should only be given to those entities who have an approved mining plan from the competent authority, in accordance with regulations framed for sustainable mining. The respondent states had not yet made the mining plan a prerequisite for leases and environmental clearances, it said.