All through the year 2019 illegal sand mining was rampant in Goa rivers despite judicial interventions. The Mandovi, Tiracal and Chapora rivers were particularly seen bearing adverse impact of unsustainable excavation. Amid worsening scenario the riverbank communities and civil societies have been making remarkable efforts to protect the rivers in the state. The work of Rainbow Warriors NGO and civil society groups who have formed the Goa River Sand Protectors network to monitor the illegal sand mining activities have truly raised hopes and shown way forward to all concerned fighting old battle against growing riverbed mining menace.
The Camurlim panchayat on Feb. 8 accused the government of turning a Nelson’s eye[I] to the rampant illegal sand mining being carried out in the Chapora river. As per Camurlim sarpanch Vishant Gaonkar around 250 trucks were involved in transporting sand from the village for past three months and and the sand was dumped in the riverine village.
Later in the month, the Captain of Ports (CoP) issued directions to refrain[II] from indulging in illegal activities of sand mining without a valid license from CoP and the directorate of mines and geology (DMG) department. They also asked for strict compliance to be adhered, failing which action would be taken against illegal activities, including confiscating of the canoes and further action as per the Goa Port Rules in force.
The NGT directed the Goa government to estimate the damage[III] done due to sand mining activities and recover compensation from the violators. NGT said rampant mining in areas rich in iron ore and other minerals was threatening the forest cover as well as posing a health hazard to the local population in various parts of Goa.
It noted that a recent economic survey had cited that more than 2.5 lakh hectares of government land was taken over by illegal mining activities. The tribunal also said that there were other issues like deterioration in groundwater levels, damage to forests and wildlife and unscientific, besides uncontrolled sand mining etc. The tribunal directed the Goa chief secretary to appear before it in person on October 21 with the status of compliance.
By May the CoP had seized about 30 illegal canoes[IV] operating in the business of sand extraction. As per the report, seizing the canoes was just the tip of the illegal sand-mining iceberg. The sand mining industry in Goa had not only grown manifold in the past two decades, it had also mechanised. Excessive extraction was becoming a threat to marine life, water table and quality of drinking water.
The report further mentioned that following an NGT order banning sand extraction, the industry that was operating on a large scale in the Mandovi, Chapora and Tiracol river came to standstill. However, in pockets, clandestine mining were still happening. Meanwhile, the government-appointed committee was working to find a solution to help people involved in sand extraction trade, who had lost their source of income.
The state government on June 20 decided to conduct a study[V] to assess the environmental damage due to sand mining in Goa’s rivers before allowing further sand extraction. The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) was selected for carrying out the impact assessment study in phase-wise manner in Mandovi, Zuari, Chapora and Tiracol rivers. Based on the study, the state government was to decide in which rivers to allow sand mining.
As per EC norms, government was supposed to carry such study. But it had not been done in past. Hence some NGOs had approached the court seeking restriction on issuing of sand extraction permits.
The principal bench of NGT ordered forfeiture of Rs 20 lakh[VI] deposited by the state government after it failed to install CCTV cameras to keep a tab on illegal sand mining. The NGT further directed the directorate of mines and geology to complete the entire work within two months and deposit a further guarantee of Rs 20 lakh with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within 10 days, which would be forfeited if the timeline prescribed therein is not adhered to”.
During the hearing conducted through videoconferencing in the case of Saidas Khorjuvekar, the government sought more time. The issue was about illegal sand mining in ‘Zuvom de Tuyem’ island in Chapora river.
In its order, the NGT noted that the state government was “delaying compliance[VII] of one part of the order on some pretext or the other, the last being the purported delay in tendering of the work”. In November 2017, the state undertook to complete the process of tendering and installing the cameras within two months but even by February 2019 the work was not done.
After some villagers complained against the rampant and illegal sand mining going on in Khandola on the left bank of the river Mandovi, the concerned government authorities took action[VIII] against violators around July 18. Taking advantage of monsoon rain, illegal sand mining was going on at Kurdavwada in Khandola village Panchayat with the help of the compressor and pipes and other machines. As the sand was being extracted from either banks of the river, villagers from Khandola in Ponda and Pilgao in Bicholim were facing numerous ecological problems and already expressed apprehension over loss of agricultural land as well as biological wealth.
On September 10, the High Court of Bombay at Goa had come down heavily on the state government for lack of regulatory mechanisms to control the illegality and directed that an effective enforcement mechanism be put in place immediately. The court also directed that the flying squad must check whether the stipulations listed by the Goa State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, while giving environmental clearance, are being enforced or not.
As per the report, unofficial estimates suggested that extraction in the Tiracol river constituted about 35% of the total sand extracted from rivers across the state. The DMG annually used to announce the end of sand mining season from June 1 and imposed a ban on mining till September 30.
The government allowed extraction of about 600 cubic metres of sand per canoe in three months. However, in the absence of a system to monitor the quantity of the sand being extracted, permit holders were extracting sand much beyond the permissible limit during the allowed period itself and also during the ban period.
The patrolling-cum-flying squad on September 20 conducted surprise checks[XI] of sites at Curchorem and Sanvordem where illegal sand mining activities were suspected to be carried out. Barring one case, where a truck loaded with sand suspected to be mined illegally was seized, the flying squad failed to detect any more cases of illegalities. The seized materials along with the truck were handed over to the Curchorem police station. The South Goa district administration had also set up a helpline number 0832-2794100 for redressal of complaints pertaining to illegal sand mining.
According to a report, the banks of the Tiracol river had seen a lot of topographical changes[XII] over the past few years. While some locals attributed this to rampant soil erosion, others say flooding had taken a toll on mangrove patches and other plantations on either side. Many even claimed that road-widening work had caused the soil to get washed off and get deposited into the riverbed, raising its water level. At some points, the newly-constructed concrete embankment for the highway had itself collapsed due to destabilised soil caused by sand extraction.
A government study conducted in the village of Uguem in 2017, had warned of extensive sand extraction taking a toll on the river’s banks. It had stated that due to deep sand mining, soil around the bank had been rendered unstable and many trees in the area had collapsed. At some stretches, the width of the river had widened by about 2-3 metres due to damage caused to the banks by water gushing into plantations. The August floods had further damaged the already ruined banks at some stretches.
Three days after the annual seasonal ban on sand mining was lifted, extracted stocks of sand and canoes were seized[XIII] in a joint raid conducted by authorities on October 2. Sources said that 80 cubic meters of sand and 18 canoes were seized in a joint raid by DMG and CoP, revenue authorities (Pernem mamlatdar) and Pernem police against illegal sand extraction at Torsem bordering Maharashtra.
The DMG had developed a software to receive information in real-time regarding extraction and transportation of sand and minor minerals. The system was to be implemented from October 1 to fulfil conditions mentioned in the Environmental Clearance and a correct account was to be kept of quantity of mineral exported, dispatched from the site, mode of transport, registration number of vehicle, etc.
Expressing concern over the shortage of sand in the state, South Goa MP Francisco Sardinha on Oct. 17 suggested that the restrictions on sand extraction be relaxed[XIV] by giving licenses for the purpose at certain locations after conducting a survey. Sardinha also decried the delay in resumption of mining in the state.
During a meeting with Union minister for environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) Prakash Javadekar, the Chief Minister (CM) Pramod Sawant also urged the ministry[XV] to take a decision to start extraction in the state, as the state was currently importing sand from Malaysia. Sawant said that due to the import of sand, state was losing foreign exchange.
The Goa bench of the Bombay High Court on December 18, while hearing petition by Rainbow Warriors, a local NGO ordered the state government to crack down[XVI] on people involved in illegal sand mining by prosecuting them under the Indian Penal Code. The court observed that canoes and trucks seized for illegal sand mining, were released after being fined paltry sums. It said that the state should not just prosecute the guilty parties under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 or the Goa Minor Mineral Concession Rules 1985, since most of these cases end with imposition of paltry fines.
Just as the state prosecutes thieves and robbers who steal from private parties or private property, so also, the state must be equally[XVII], if not more vigilant, when it comes to robbing of natural resources held in trust by the state, the court said.
The civil society people got a big boost[XVIII] following the court directive and demanded authorities to take immediate action against illegal sand mining on December 23. The activists from all over the state united under the banner of Goa River Sand Protectors and decided to form a network to ensure that written, photographic and video record is created and submitted to DMG and CoP.
Meanwhile, on December 14, disposing of the petition regarding illegal sand-mining in the Chapora river, the NGT directed state departments, including the police, to ensure that regular vigil[XIX] is maintained at the river and necessary action is taken against violators based on CCTV footage. Earlier, the tribunal had directed that CCTV cameras be installed at specified locations along the river.
The case pertaining to illegal mining in the Chapora river was filed in 2015. During the course of the proceedings, the NGT had issued directions from time to time to deal with the violation. The tribunal said records had shown that the state has been taking various steps, including constitution of a district committee, to deal with the grant of permits for manual sand extraction and its monitoring.
On December 23, the Goa River Sand Protectors network alleged that each and every sand canoe was bribing 700 rupees[XX] to officers of the CoP and Coastal Police government officers. The network said despite the judgment passed by the HC, there was increase in illegal sand extraction.
Summary-Goa There has been a lot of efforts to control illegal and unsustainable sand mining in Goa. All these efforts are a result of joint fight by villagers and numbers of court directions and orders and NGT interventions following petitions filed by civil societies. This shows the state government has failed totally to develop mechanism to stop illegal sand mining practices. The government sees the sand as a source of income and livelihoods but does not care much to mine it in sustainable manner leading to present day situation. The Mandovi, Tiracal and Chapora rivers are particularly affected by illegal and mechanized mining operations.
The Rainbow Warriors NGO has done commendable work in making the administration and government agencies do their duty through court intervention. Going a step further ahead, the civil society groups have formed the Goa River Sand Protectors network to monitor the illegal sand mining activities and inform administration with evidence for prompt action. This is a rare, great example, worth replication by other concerned individuals and organization worried over unsustainable mining of finite resource. The court is also right that growing and repeated illegal sand mining activities cannot be fined under mining rules but must be dealt under IPC and criminal cases.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)