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. The first part covered the detail of illegal sand extraction across many Indian States in 2015. The second part presented an account of measures and actions taken by Central and State Governments (Govts).
This third and final part provides information on significant judicial decisions issued by different Courts particularly National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015.
Previous Important Judgements
In 2012 Honourable Supreme Court (SC) of India in its landmark judgement on 27 February 2012 had directed all Union Territories and State Governments to seek Environmental Clearances (EC) from Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for mining minor minerals even in less than 5 ha or renew the same after prior approval from the MoEF&CC. Before this order, mining areas of less than 5 ha were exempted from EC enacted under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)-2006. The SC also observed that quarrying excessive in-stream sand causes the degradation of rivers as it lowers the riverbed which may lead to bank erosion and result in destruction of aquatic and riparian habitats as well.
In 2013, observing continuous violations of environmental norms in riverbed quarrying, NGT on 05 August 2013 ordered a ban on sand excavation across the country without seeking prior approval for the same from State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and MoEF&CC. The green court also directed all concerned departments in States to ensure compliance of its orders. Further in November 2013, bringing sand mining rule formation under MoEF&CC ambit, NGT stated that environment is a subject of Central govt. and States can’t frame sand mining rules separately.
Year 2015 was full of Courts orders particularly by NGT, issued against unsustainable riverbed quarrying going on in violations of EC. We give here glimpse of some of the key judgements.
High Court Orders
In January 2015, while hearing a PIL, Madhaya Pradesh (MP) HC directed State Govt. to explain steps to curb sand mining in Chambal River. This was in response to a PIL that alleged that on a daily basis 400-500 trolleys and dumpers were illegally excavating sand from Chambal River banks, severely impacting the aquatic life in and around the river. In April 2015 the MP HC gave State Govt three days to file report on State sponsored sand mining activities on Narmada banks under Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) catchment area. The court found that sand was being extracted from the banks of Narmada River and its tributaries in various villages of Barwani, Dhar, Khargone and Alirajpur districts in violation of norms. In May 2015 the HC put a ban on illegal sand mining in SSP catchment area commenting that State Govt permission to mining leases on lands under the Narmada Valley Development Authority was a “colourable exercise” of power. Extending the ban on 12 May the court directed the MP Govt., the State Pollution Control Board and the MoEF&CC to file “detailed replies”.
In May 2015 Gujarat HC shut down 67 sand mining units in Gir Sanctuary. The court observed that the units were operating without renewing their licences and posing a threat to the lives of wild animals on the banks of the Shetrunji River.
In August 2015, finding that most of sand mining sites across the State were being run by sand mafia the Madras HC Tamil Nadu asked the State Govt. why sand quarrying should not be banned from the Cauvery riverbed.
In April 2015 NGT slammed MP govt. for failing to stop illegal sand mining in Narmada & Ken Rivers. The green tribunal also directed the concerned agencies not to release vehicles involved in mining without its permission. In November 2015, NGT served notices to SEIAA, MP for allowing mining in SSP areas seeking explanation on what basis it issued 22 mining leases in alleged submergence area of SSP. The green court also asked MP pollution control board to examine complaints of illegal mining and file prosecution proceedings. In December 2015, taking note of Narmada Bachao Andolan complaint regarding continuing of illegal sand mining in the submergence area of SSP, NGT appointed a commissioner to verify the complain.
In July 2015, the green panel stayed sand mining in MP during monsoons finding it causing significant damage to river ecology. The court also ruled that mining policy or sand extraction permission of the State should not be in contradiction to fisheries policy. Then in September 2015 NGT banned sand mining during monsoon directing the MoEF&CC not to grant environmental clearance for sand mining in the rivers of north India during the rainy season. The ban was lifted next month.
In October 2015 NGT Central Bench, Bhopal fined two construction companies Vanshika Construction and Shiva Corporation finding them guilty of being involved in illegal excavation of sand in Narmada River near Bhopal. The Bench also asked the companies to compensate the damages.
In February 2015, hearing a plea filed by Matri Sadan Haridwar NGT ruled out complete ban on quarrying in Ganga. The court stated that removal of riverbed materials should be done scientifically and according established practices. Then in April 2015, putting a ban on illegal riverbed quarrying at Haridwar, NGT ordered that no unauthorised sand mining should take place in Ganga without taking environmental clearance. In December 2015, while issuing judgment on Ganga Rejuvenation Phase-I the green court banned mechanized mining of riverbed material. The court stated that quarrying of riverbed materials should be done in highly restricted manner and under strict supervision.
In February 2015, NGT imposed a ban on all mining activities around Sariska National Park, Alwar (Rajasthan). The court observed that 85 mining leases were operating in the area without obtaining EC from SEIAA Rajasthan and rebuked the State Govt. for shutting its eyes on indiscriminate sand mining. In 2014 also NGT Central Bench had prohibited mining of stone and marbles in Rajasthan. Hearing the petition further in March 2015, the Bench warned Haryana & Rajasthan Govts of strict actions against non-compliance to its sand mining ban order. The green panel also directed the States to file a comprehensive status reports on the issue within two weeks.
Sand Mining in Yamuna Noida (Pics Source The Mint)
In March 2015, NGT criticised MoEF&CC for failing to stop illegal sand mining on Yamuna riverbed in Noida and Faridabad. In May 2015 NGT directed MoEF&CC to present expert committee report on the river regulation zone while hearing a plea against encroachments on the flood plains of the Yamuna and Hindon. In November 2015 the court imposed a ban on all sort of sand mining legal or illegal in Yamuna River.
In September 2015, while hearing a petition filed by two villages complaining of rampant sand extraction in the middle of Chapora River, Goa, NGT Pune Bench put a ban on illegal sand mining in Goa. The green panel also directed to Directorate of Mines and Geology to conduct strict vigilance to check sand miming during nights.
In October 2015 NGT halted riverbed mining in Neugal River near Palampur, Himachal Pradesh asking State forest and mining departments to submit their report.
In Conclusion Thus we see, Honorable Courts specially NGT issuing numbers of orders all through 2015, directing Central and States Govts. to check unsustainable riverbed mining. It is sad to note that despite so many orders, MoEF&CC and State Govts failed to effectively implement the court orders and arrest illegal extraction of sand from different rivers. Many State Govts like Rajasthan & Kerala are also finding it difficult to implement the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines issued in Aug 2015 by MoEF&CC. The repeated court orders are clear signs of failure of the state and central government.
In 2016, the news of unchecked sand mining and attacks on law enforcers & RTI activists by unauthorized sand operators have begun filling the news spaces as if nothing has changed on the ground.
Bhim Singh Rawat (email@example.com) SANDRP
For first part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015 (Part-I)
For second part of this series kindly visit River Sand Mining in India in 2015-II- Government acts of omissions and commissions