Unsustainable sand mining from riverbeds can have huge social, environmental, geomorphic and disastrous impacts for rivers. In this three part reports; SANDRP is trying to provide a picture of what happened on this issue in 2015 in India.
In the first part SANDRP has published the detail of illegal sand extraction that was found rampant across many Indian States in 2015. It specifically covered the increased numbers of attacks on Govt. officials including common men against their attempt to expose and oppose illegal removal of sand from riverbeds.
This second part presents detail of some of the significant steps taken by Central and various State Governments (Govt.) to control and regulate unsustainable excavation of riverbed sand mining.
Introduction of “sustainable sand mining policy” draft notification by Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) was the most significant development pertaining to sand mining in 2015. The draft notification was uploaded on MoEF&CC website in September 2015 seeking comments from all concerned. The draft, shockingly envisioned self regulation of environmental norms by miners. It also acknowledged that sand mining was happening in unsustainable manner and revealed that Govt. lacked reliable data on amount of sand being mined in different rivers in the country. Accepting that sand was essential for the health of Rivers, Prakash Javedkar, Minister, MoEF&CC stated “Sand is for river, what RBC is for blood”. According to minister the objective of notification was to strike a balance between increasing demand of sand and sustainable sand mining practices which will help in achieving the goal of sustainable development.
Earlier in January 2015 too, meeting on Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) (MMDR) Amendment Ordinance 2015 was held in New Delhi. The objective of the meeting was to simplify mining procedure. The amendment envisaged self-certification of environmental norms by the miners. It also proposed penal provisions up to Rs 5 lakh rupees and imprisonment up to 5 years for checking illegal mining. Earlier in the same month the Central Govt. planned to amend of MMDR Act to include provisions of allowing transfer of captive mines granted through procedures other than auction. In March 2015 MoEF&CC team conducted a field inspection of Haridwar and reported of large scale illegal mining of sand and stones going on in Ganga River.
Illegal Sand Mining in Ganga (Pics Source HT)
In July 2015 Central Govt. planned to conduct external audit for all uninspected mines to check whether companies are adhering to government-approved mining plans or not. According to news report Govt. planned to carry such third party audits at least once every year for each mine. Later in August 2015 MoEF&CC announced to adopt a different sand mining policy to prevent flooding of forest areas. The Environment Minister stated that due to no mining in forest areas, river bed level had swollen leading to frequent flooding of forest area.
In October 2015 taking a note of unauthorised sand mining in Ganga, Uma Bharati Ministry of Water Resources, Rivers Development & Ganga Rejuvenation wrote a letter to Prakash Javadekar asking him to send a joint team of her Ministry and Environment Ministry to inquire into the matter. One more report in same month stated that a fully prepared River Regulation Zone draft which can effectively control illegal removal of sand was waiting clearances for the last 13 years.
In December 2015, replying to a question in Rajya Sabha Prakash Javedkar, Minister MoEF&CC informed that sand as a minor mineral came under State Govts. jurisdiction and regulation of grants to mining leases and abatement of illegal sand mining was largely vested with them. He also informed that no data was maintained separately for sand mining. The Minister stated that Indian Bureau of Mines reports on the incidents of illegal mining. The statement made by the minster included year-wise cases of illegal sand mining reported in last 4 years in three, see below.
|S. No.||States||Illegal mining cases||Action taken by the State Governments|
|2012-2013||2013-2014||2014-2015||2015-2016 (upto June 2015)||No of FIRs lodged||No of Court case filed||No of Vehicles seized||Fine realized by State Govt. (Rs lakh)|
MoEF January 2016 order On January 21, 2016, a PIB press release titled “‘Decentralization of Environmental Clearance for Sustainable sand Mining and Mining of Minor Minerals Introduced’: Javadekar” announced new regulations. This announcement is seriously probelmatic, some reasons are listed here:
- The decentralisation of clearance process to district level is good idea, but the inclusion of three district government officers of the four members of Dist EIA Authority is not good, they all are govt servants, likely to toe govt line with little independence. Similarly DEAC (Dist Expert Appraisal Committee) is packed with govt servants, in all these committees at least 50% members has to be from outside the govt, and people who have proven independent credentials.
- There are state govt regulations on sand mining, it is not clear which one will prevail. For example: see: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/confusion-over-sandmining-norms-in-kerala-sparks-concern/article8148351.ece
- Statements like “Shri Prakash Javadekar, said that the Ministry has taken several policy initiatives and enacted environmental and pollution control legislations to prevent indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and to promote integration of environmental concerns in developmental projects.” are baseless, the MoEF has been more anti environment than even water resource ministry recently. Its track record on sand mining and rivers related environmental issues is very poor.
- There seems to be too much faith in technology and IT with very little in the people at the grass roots level. In issues like sand mining, there has to be much greater role of the local communities in decision making and also monitoring and compliance.
- There is any attention to the impacts of unsustainble mining and how to ensure credible impact assessment and capacity to assess unsustainable mining and saying no in such cases.
- The excluded activities include some that certainly require impact assessment. e.g. desilting of dams.
Kerala bans mining in rivers The State Govt. in June 2015 decided to impose a total ban on sand mining from six rivers and to allow restricted sand extraction in five other rivers for the next three years. The government’s decision was based on the report of river bank mapping and sand auditing conducted as per rules stipulated in the Kerala River bank protection and regulation of removal of sand rules. This seems like a positive development for rivers, not seen in any other state in India.
Gujarat In March 2015 State Govt. announced amendment in sand mining rules to introduce measures for violations. The govt. also planned for prohibiting sand mining below the water level in a riverbed, allowing mining only during day time, ensuring protection to river course including crops on river banks, and compulsory submission of environment management plan while bidding for the mining lease. The State imposed a ban on inter-state movement of sand and since the last two years the state has sold sand largely through online auctions. This happened in response to a PIL filed by Zarpara (Kutch district) villagers protesting against mining activity in a nearby riverbed.
Madhya Pradesh (MP) In March 2015, the State Govt. with an object to stabilise sand prices and bring transparency formed a new sand-mining policy. Suggesting State Mining Corporation to identify new areas for sand mining, it allowed Govt. to conduct sand mining in all tehsils of the 18 districts. It also scaled down the security money for bidders from 25% to 10% making mining much easier and lucrative. Activists alleged that that the new policy would spell disaster for the State’s environment and livelihoods of lakhs of people. Earlier in 2013, the Govt. amended the Minor Minerals Rules, 1996, facilitating formation of district-level environmental committees for granting environmental clearances to mining projects. This move rendered the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) formed under MoEF&CC redudant as far as sand mining projects are concerned in Madhya Pradesh. In June 2015, District Administration of Chhatarpur proposed fine of Rs 9 cr against illegal removal of sand. The official website of Mineral Resources Department, MP Govt. revealed that till 02 February 2016 the State had filed 418 (against illegal mining), 9997 (llegal transportation) and 448 (illegal storage) related to minerals in MP.
Maharashtra (MH) In Jan 2015 State Govt scarped river regulation policy, pandering to industry at the cost of rivers and people, as SANDRP wrote. The State Govt. felt that the policy was rigid and had led to stalling of industrial projects worth Rs 7000 crore. Sadly MH was the first state to enact comprehensive river regulation policy after prolonged research and consultation with leading experts.
In June 2015 the State Govt. brought illegal sand mining activity under the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities (MPDA) Act, 1981 which enabled police to make preventive arrests of repeat offenders and detain culprits for up to a year. Earlier to this in May 2015 Govt. lifted sand mining ban on coastal districts of Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Raigad and Thane after promising National Green Tribunal (NGT) adherence to precautions to maintain the ecological balance. NGT had imposed the ban in 2014 on coastal regions of many states, including MH noting that sand mining in coastal areas and of river and creek beds was harming the environment. In 2010, 2011, 2014 too MH Govt. had revoked ban on sand mining in State imposed by courts in absence of comprehensive sand mining policy. Maharashtra has framed rules for auctioning of sand mined from river beds.
Uttarakhand (UK) The State notified new mining policy in July 2015 has divided mining areas in Zone A, B & C (Hills, Middle Hills & Plain respectively). Under riverbed dredging strategy the policy states about expert study under Geology and Mining Department for allowing dredging of riverbed to prevent flooding in residential areas and farming land located close to rivers. The policy also states that the muck created by digging of tanks, tunnel and water channels in Hydro Projects would be used in construction of projects after approval for same is granted by District Administration in confidence with Geology and Mining Department. The policy spells ambiguity on several aspects and nowhere mentions environmental precautions to be taken before, during and after mining, let alone the question of checking illegal mining. This shows the desperation of UK govt. in facilitating mining activities.
In January 2015 Chief Minister UK Harish Rawat strongly objected to the term “Mining Mafia” used by opposition and stated that mining is only anti-dote to curb rising levels of rivers and save cities located on river banks from flooding. Then in August 2015 the State Govt. urged Central Govt. to permit dredging of Ganga citing flood threats to Haridwar. The Centre gave in principle approval to the plan next month. The forest department of UK was learnt to have started Ganga mining in November 2015.
Haryana (HR) A notification of the Department of Mines and Geology, HR Govt. dated 19 March 2015 allowed sand extraction from River Yamuna in Sonipat district. The notification also prescribed several conditions to address environmental concerns and prevent further degradation of the river. Interestingly it was Bhartiya Janta Party who had promised to lift the ban on all forms of mining in the State during 2014 Lok Sabha elections. According to a news report in June 2015, MoEF&CC planned to approve environmental clearance to mining of sand, boulders for 12 mines in Ambala, Karnal, Panipat, Sonipat, Faridabad, and Palwal.
Notably the Tajewala Barrage (It was not longer in use as it was replaced by Hathnikund barrage earlier) in 2010 collapsed as a result of unrestricted mining in Yamuna. Local people had warned, seeing the unrestricted sand mining happening downstream of it, that it could collapse and collapse it did. It was used as picnic spot and a bridge before it collapsed. Now there are local reports of Hathini Kund Barrage being under threat from sand mining and could run down in future if hit by big flood.
Other States were also learnt to be taking steps to curb illegal removal of sand, e.g. Punjab Govt. decided to apply reverse bidding policy for new mines in State to bring down prices and discourage black marketing of minor minerals. The State also allowed the Irrigation Department to mine sand midstream from riverbeds of the Sutlej and Beas by dredging it at 45 places. The State of Karnataka lodged more than 30 police complains to combat illegal sand mining. While Andhra Pradesh formed women self-help groups for excavating sand on which it took a U-turn in December 2015 and decided to go for open auctioning.
The Chhattisgarh govt. revised the basic rules for granting permission of minor minerals. Himachal Pradesh govt. constituted flying squads and made it mandatory to secure prior approval for stocking of minor minerals. The Jharkhand govt. tried to revise royalty for river-bed sand to discourage its illegal exploitation. Meghalaya classified sand as a minor mineral and put its protection under its forest department.
We see that different State Govts. took some measures to control illegal sand mining in 2015, but majority of these steps were forced by respective Courts. The formation of Sustainable Sand Mining Policy by MoEF&CC was in fact an outcome of NGT decision about which we will provide detail in third and concluding part.
Summing up In 2015, we find unsustianble and unscientific removal of sand from rivers continues to remain wide spread in India. The operators of mining activities have grown stronger and have been assaulting anyone that objects including Govt. agencies. Affected villagers allege politicians to be either directly involved or supporting the illegal mining indirectly, hence finds it difficult to raise their voices.
Sand being Minor mineral comes under State Govts. jurisdiction and Central Govt. does not directly deal with the mining leases, and abatement of illegal extraction, though enforcement of environment laws is certainly under the mandate of Union government. There is no mechanism developed either by State or Central Govt. which measures amount of sand being annually mined in the country, or what is sustainable level at any given location. State Govts. have failed in restricting the illegal mining. In many cases their policies are found encouraging it. Central Govt. also has not developed a reliable mechanism resulting in unsustainable mining. It is mainly the judicial interventions that are trying to make the govts. correct its mistakes, but we have yet to see effectiveness of judicial interventions.
The new notification from MoEF in January 2016 in this regard is seriously problematic and seems like we have long way to go before our rivers have better future.
Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For first part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015 (Part-I)
For third part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015-III-Judicial Actions