Sand Mining

Riverbed Mining 2022: Judiciary tries but fails to bring effective change

(Feature Image: Screen shot of The Power Time Dec. 2022 video news report revealing large scale mechanized, illegal sand mining in Sone rivers in Sonbhadra district Uttar Pradesh)

Judiciary has been striving to remedy the lawless situation currently dominating riverbed mining in India. The year 2022 has been full of court cases and orders dealing with unsustainable and illegal riverbed mining operations. In this yearend overview, we have reported top ten judicial interventions to control exploitative minor mineral mining by various state governments and to make the regulators accountable against the illegalities & violations.

In 1st part of the annual Sand Mining overviews, we tracked the adverse impacts of riverbed mining activities on freshwater species and rivers’ eco-system. In 2nd part, we covered the riverine community’s agitations against destructive riverbed mining. The 3rd part highlighted the damages and threats to infrastructures by excessive, mechanized riverbed mining.

1.  NGT questions changes to EC rules In April-May 2022, the MoEF issued notifications to modify the environmental clearance process for Category B projects- which include “all minor mineral projects (irrespective of capacity), coal mining projects up to 500 ha & major mineral (non-coal) projects. Under the April 20 & May 9 notifications, the govt “decentralised” the environmental clearance process, allowing the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) to grant clearances for these projects. The notification also relaxed the process of public hearing about the projects, allowing the hearing to be conducted by an SDM level officer & reducing the time allowed for rescheduled public hearings.

“The environmental regulation mechanism for conducting such an appraisal must be effective. The authority/agency conducting such an appraisal must have the requisite capacity. In its absence, such large-scale decentralization may defeat the object of sustainable development and appraisal may be farce,” observed the NGT in its 11 July order. The court also noted that “inadequacy of capacity of environmental regulators has been noted by this Tribunal” in judgments delivered in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The Green tribunal called for a response from the MOEF&CC on the concerns raised by the petition.

“Unless the Central Government is satisfied that the functioning of SEIAAs is upgraded to enable it to take the requisite load, decentralization may result in irreversible environmental degradation by unchecked violations,” the NGT order noted. Various benches of the Green tribunal and the Supreme Court had earlier raised concerns about the expertise of the State Environmental clearance authorities, the large number of vacancies in various state authorities and the need for a detailed performance audit of all state environment clearance agencies. A petition moved before the Green tribunal by NGO Social Action for Forest & Environment (SAFE) has challenged these notifications on grounds that they would make the environmental clearance (EC) process meaningless and violate the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.  (14 July 2022)

2.  Uttarakhand Classification of rivers to set up stone crushers illegal: NGT The principal bench of NGT has declared the state government’s decision to classify streams into “perennial and non-perennial rivers” for setting up of stone crushers illegal for violating the NGT Act, and ordered the government to “revisit the policy”. The order of NGT bench led by chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel read: “We hold that distinction of perennial and non-perennial for locating stone crushers or other such plants for maintaining distance is hit by the principle of ‘sustainable development’ under Section 20 of the NGT Act, 2010 and is ‘illegal’.”

In its 19-page order, the green tribunal gave examples of Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and other states which had met similar fate in trying to violate the NGT Act. “We order the state of Uttarakhand to revisit its policy/regime to do away with such distinction for protection of all streams, water courses/rivers,” the order stated. The chief secretary of the state has been directed to “take remedial action accordingly for compliance” of the NGT order, it stated. Besides, the NGT reminded Uttarakhand that “The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 ‘does not distinguish’ streams as per definition under section 2(j).”

Petitioner Sanjay Kumar, in his plea filed through advocate Gaurav Bansal on Sep 11 2022 alleged that the govt has allowed miners to set up plants as close to 500m from the bank of a “perennial” river and just 50m away from a “non-perennial” river via an amendment made to the mining policy in 2021. These limits were earlier 1km and 500m, respectively. The petitioner had alleged that for the wrongful gain to stone crushers and screening plants, the distinction was done in violation of umpteen significant laws ranging from the NGT Act to Environment & Water Acts. (9 Dec. 2022)

Tribunal had issued notice on Sept 27, 2022 to state government seeking its response within 4 weeks on how and under what law the classification of perennial and non-perennial rivers in the state had been changed. Advocate appearing for petitioner argued before a four-judge bench that the state govt has unconstitutionally amended the law of river mining to benefit the mining lobby.  (29 Sept. 2022)

3. Uttar Pradesh Replenishment study of riverbed sand must for sand mining: NGT Govt should not permit any sand mining before completing replenishment studies for riverbed sand, a 2-member bench of the NGT directed May 6, 2022. Such studies for riverbed sand must be done by credible institutions, following due procedure, in accordance with Enforcement & Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining, 2020. Uttar Pradesh must ensure that regulatory authorities are adequately equipped & capable to assess quantities of mined material, the order said. When it comes to “instream mining”, it has to be ensured that the machinery permitted or used “comply with semi mechanised mining operations in true sense,” it added.

In all dists with potential for sand-mining, environmental damage assessment has to be carried out & annual assessment reports placed in public domain on the websites of the mining dept, as well as the SPCB. The NGT order came in the wake of applications filed before the court on the occurrence of illegal mining in the submerged water area in Kanwara & Bendakhadar villages in Banda dist.  (11 May 2022)

4. Goa Explain unabated illegal sand mining in Tiracol River: HC  Justice M S Sonak & R N Laddha of the Bombay High Court at Goa directed the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP), to file affidavits by May 2, in the matter concerning illegal sand mining continuing unabated in Pernem area.

In a contempt petition filed by the Goa Rivers and Sand Protectors Network (GRSPN), the court observed: “At least, prima facie, we think that this is a serious matter, because, instances are on the rise to defy not only court orders but to unauthorisedly extract sand, thereby causing environmental degradation. From the rise in such instances, we get an impression, which we sincerely hope is wrong, that the authorities are not seriously interested in controlling this activity of unauthorised sand extraction. There is virtually a game of hide-and-seek going on and the impression that we get is that the authorities are not doing enough to prevent it.”

The Court observed: “Besides, we wonder how 50 to 60 canoes can be involved in such an activity, and yet the police authorities and the mamlatdar claim virtual ignorance of what is happening at these sites. There is record that on both these occasions, complaints were filed to the Pernem police station and to the mamlatdar, urging action”. The court asked the officials to explain, “As to why despite all the mechanisms they claim they have put in place, such incidents continue unabated”. “The onus cannot be put entirely on activists or environmentalists to point out such incidents many a times, at the cost of risk to themselves and only thereafter, some modicum of action is reported. It is the duty of the state to prevent such activity in terms of the law,” the judges observed.

Recently, Uguem villagers threatened to block the NH 66 at Uguem if the government failed to stop the illegal sand extraction activity in the jurisdiction of Tamboxem-Mopa-Uguem Village Panchayat.  (26 April 2022) “…The rampant sand mining taking place for a long time has led to the sinking of the Tiracol bed from around 60 metre to 160 metre. I say that coconut, mango and other plantations and farms of local villagers have been severely affected due to the land sliding that has occurred as a consequence of the illegal sand mining in Uguem,” Mahale said in the affidavit.  (26 April 2022)

Submit compliance report on illegal sand mining: HC to DGP The high court of Bombay at Goa has directed the DGP to submit an affidavit explaining the compliance status of his standing order to curb illegal sand mining. The court has sought details of the daily patrolling record and information of sand extraction at four hotspots. The court has also asked the DGP to inform it whether action is proposed to be taken against police officials in Pernem, where illegal sand extraction was taking place.

“There is no proper explanation why complaints filed by concerned citizens, perhaps a significant danger to them, were ignored. In any case, this is a matter that is required to be inquired into with seriousness, as indicated by the DGP himself in his standing order dated March 17, 2022,” added the division bench comprising justices M S Sonak and R N Laddha.  (06 May 2022)

5. Karnataka NGT bans use of heavy machinery for sand mining in river bed “Whenever lease in respect of sand mining in a river bed is granted, then the granting authority must specifically mention in that deed that no heavy machinery can be used for carrying it out. The officials must be careful in drafting the lease deed in the future,” the southern bench of the NGT said. The petitioner alleged large-scale illegal sand mining at two different sites in the Krishna River Bed in Joldahadgi Village, Devadurga Taluk in Raichur using JCB machines which is against the guidelines issued by the MoEF&CC on sustainable sand mining policy.

Earlier, the NGT constituted a joint committee that suggested imposing fines against violators. The bench also directed Karnataka Mining and Geology Department strictly implement the provisions of Karnataka Minor Mineral Concessions Rules, the Sand Mining Management Guidelines. “The authorities must also provide necessary mechanisms to check all these aspects and also must have a regular mechanism to have a vigil to supervise the sand mining areas to avoid natural resources being exploited,” the Bench said. “The Mining department is directed to take steps to realise the Environmental Compensation imposed against the persons responsible for illegal mining outside the permitted mining area in addition to the penalty imposed by the Joint Committee in accordance with law, after issuing show cause notice and providing opportunity of filing an objection,” the NGT said.  (22 May 2022)

CRZ Notification allows manual removal of sand, rules HC Manually removing sand is allowed under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, according to the High Court of Karnataka. A division bench headed by acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe said this while granting relief to a group of 30 temporary permit holders from Dakshina Kannada. The petitioners submitted that they are traditionally engaged in fisheries and were granted temporary permits for the removal of sand bars accumulated in the river banks within the CRZ in the Dakshina Kannada district. They said that a 7-member committee had issued temporary permits to them on May 7, 2022, which is operative till March 4, 2023, excluding four months during the monsoon between June and September 2022. The petitioners jointly challenged the District Sand Monitoring Committee’s order dated May 21, 2022, that suspended their licence as well as the notices issued on May 23, 2022, by the Deputy Director of Mines & Geology.  (10 Sept. 2022)

6. Odisha NHAI, contractor, supplier have joint liability in road construction NGT has directed the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) to ascertain veracity of allegations regarding use of illegally mined minor minerals in construction of the Bhadrak-Balasore stretch of NH-16 widening project of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The construction of the road was undertaken with use of an estimated 10,50,000 cubic metre of soil/earth/morrum, 44,523 cubic metre of sand, 10,95,000 cubic metre of stone aggregates and 1,73,142 cubic metre of stone crusher dust without consent/environmental clearance (EC). NGT’s East Zone bench also asked the SPCB to determine the environmental compensation if any violations are found and file an action taken report within three months with the Registrar.

Alay Samantaray, a social worker filed the petition alleging illegal mining of the minor minerals. Advocate Sankar Prasad Pani argued for the petitioner. It was argued by NHAI that having been awarded the contract, it is the contractor who is liable for compliance. The contractors took stand that they procure material for executing the contract and have no accountability for violations by suppliers as they are not by themselves undertaking any mining. The suppliers sought exemption from requirements of obtaining consents/EC for mining claiming that road construction projects fall under such exemption. However, a 5-member bench headed by chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel ruled that exemption from environmental clearance for road projects does not extend to the mining of different minor minerals used for roads.  (26 Sept. 2022)

Set up special courts to punish illegal mining: AG In a letter to chief secretary, advocate general Ashok Parija said as Odisha leads the country in the production of iron ore, bauxite and chromite and has significant reserves of coal, limestone, dolomite, and sand, the state government should set an example for ensuring speedy trial of offences under the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957. The special courts can be established under section 30 (B) of the MMDR Act which was inserted in 2015 following detection of illegal mining in Odisha, Karnataka and Goa by mining mafia.

The advocate general referred to the judgement of the single-judge bench of Orissa high court last month where the court underlined the necessity of such courts. Officials said the setting up of special courts in districts under the MMDR Act would not just lead to speedy trial of the 943 illegal mining cases pending in subordinate courts, but also help the govt in dealing with the theft of minor minerals like sand, gravel, stones, laterites, ballasts and rock fines. Of late, the minor mineral mafia have taken to attacking the revenue dept officials during enforcement activities forcing the govt to deploy armed policemen in 10 places. Officials said the state govt may follow Karnataka model and request the chief justice of Orissa high court to empower the district judges to try the mining cases under MMDR Act. (9 Mar 2022)

7. Meghalaya NGT needs to broaden proceedings against illegal sand-mining: HC  High Court has said that there is a need for the NGT to broaden its proceedings against illegal sand-mining across the North-Eastern states. A full bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee was on May 25 2022 hearing a suo motu petition filed by the registrar general of the high court following reports of unregulated sand-mining destroying water bodies across the state. The court said the petition was adjourned on April 19 upon noticing that a notification had been published by the state govt on April 14 pursuant to the directions of the NGT issued on April 5, 2019 & Feb 26, 2021. “An impression was given that the NGT was still monitoring all illegal sand-mining activities in the state and appropriate directions had been issued,” it said.

The court had observed in the immediate previous order of April 19, 2022 that if there was a matter before the NGT that covered the subject-matter of the present proceedings, the present proceedings may be closed. However, Amicus Curiae S Sen informed the court that the matter before the NGT is confined to the illegal sand-mining and extraction of rocks and stones from riverbeds in Ri-Bhoi district. The NGT, according to the amicus curiae, has not taken up several complaints pertaining to the same issue in other districts.

“Since a specialised body has taken up a matter relating to one aspect and covering a particular district, leave is given to any public-spirited individual to approach the NGT to expand the scope of the proceedings before it to address the same issue elsewhere,” the court said. In other words, the NGT may be approached to consider the extent of illegal sand-mining and sand-mining activities in general across the state, it added. The next hearing on the matter will be on June 21. The NGT was hearing the case since 2019. The high court began hearing the case in April 2022.  (26 May 2022)

‘Abode of clouds appears to be an abode of anarchy’ Venting its ire on the state govt for bringing in the word “incidental” into the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 2016 on Jan 29, 2018, the division bench of the High Court of Meghalaya observed that “the abode of clouds appears to be an abode of anarchy and quite alarmingly it may be state sponsored.”  (06 April 2022) -“One of the key areas where the state has to be vigilant is in how sand and silt, which have to be considered as minor minerals are allowed to be mined from the riverbeds,” the order said. According to the court, it is normal for licensees to obtain permission over a much smaller area and in respect of a limited quantum to exploit a much larger area and mine much in excess of the quantum contemplated at the time of the grant of license. “The state will also do well to indicate the environmental impact assessment undertaken prior to the issuance of any license by way of a concession for minor minerals,” the order said.  (05 April 2022)

8. Punjab HC bans mining across Ravi in Pathankot, Gurdaspur The direction came after, among other things, the Army told the Bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli that “illegal mining had been a facilitating factor towards the nexus between drug smugglers, terrorists and anti-national elements operating in the hinterland, nurtured and controlled by the ISI”. The Bench also rapped Punjab for not coming out with a concrete plan. Responding to the state’s reply, the Bench observed: “Not a single word is there on how the govt is planning to stop illegal mining in the riverbeds. What is keeping the officers of Punjab so busy that they are not taking any action on such a serious issue? What is the use of filing so many fancy affidavits when nothing is being done on the ground? The Punjab Govt is so engrossed that the court has to intervene and make it aware that it is a national security issue which affects Punjab too and mining in the border areas is a threat to the country”.

The Army’s affidavit added that ditches and gorges formed following illegal mining facilitated cross-border infiltration. Besides, unplanned and uncontrolled mining may cause changes in the natural water drainage and even changed the river’s course, resulting in the Army posts being susceptible to flooding, it said. In the other affidavit, the BSF reiterated that sand mining was going on unabated & unchecked in the Ravi riverbed in close proximity to the international border in the area of “responsibility of the 73 Battalion BSF under Gurdaspur Sector”.

The affidavit added it was posing a huge threat to the security of international border fence, besides affecting the “future course” of the Ravi. The mining/excavation started before sunrise and went on till late night, sometimes even the entire night. “Rivers/nullahs flow in border areas can change course because of sandy clay, which is direct threat to the border fence and other border infrastructure. Water will be pooled in the ditches caused due to sand mining. Tunnel from Pakistan can come up in these areas,” the affidavit read. It said anti-social elements or terrorists might reach or approach the international border fence in the guise of local people or mining workers when mining was carried out near the border fence and the BSF would find it difficult to identify the culprit, “if a case of border conniving happened”.  (30 Aug. 2022) At one point, the high court bench orally observed that whether mining was so important that it was being allowed to “mess with national security”. The high court while deferring hearing asked the Punjab government to file an affidavit on the issues raised and take steps to curb illegal mining.  (30 Aug. 2022) Despite ban and ‘strict vigil’, illegal mining in river Ravi continues unabated.  (13 Sept. 2022) After the Indian Army raised concerns about ‘cross-border infiltration’ due to ‘illegal mining’ at Punjab border districts, the state govt on Oct. 31 2022 decided that mining would not be allowed within 1 km of the international border.  (01 Nov. 2022)

9. Maharashtra HC stops govt from giving sand mining contract on Savitri  Taking note of the govt not informing it of extending an expired mechanised sand mining contract, Bombay high court has temporarily restrained the award of contracts in any form on an 11 km stretch of Savitri river in Raigad district. “We make it clear that for this 11 km stretch of Savitri river no award in any form of sand mining or dredging whether mechanised or by hand is to be awarded until the next date,” said Justices Gautam Patel and Madhav Jamdar on March 17 2022. They want “the original file of all contracts awarded” on this stretch.

Hearing three petitions, the HC on March 8, 2022 stayed the State’s auction notice for mechanised sand mining/excavation of various tracts of land across the 11 km stretch from Vicharwadi to Dasgaon. The petitions said villagers had an exclusive right to hathpati or manual excavation. Told that the collector permitted mechanised dredging, the HC on March 14 stopped all dredging works. The State’s advocate said it was a 2021 contract that was extended.  (20 March 2022)

NGT stops sand mining from Gad River and Arabian Sea in Sindhudurg for aggravating the impact of sea level rise and causing erosion of the village boundary. Also directed for securing the area from erosion.  (30 May 2022)

10. Jammu & Kashmir NGT questions clearances; halts mining at Shaliganga NGT bench headed by Justice Sudhir Agarwal on Sep 28, 2022 ordered mining operations at the Shaliganga Nallah in Budgam district to halt, calling into question the EC given for the operations. The NGT order came in response to a plea by activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat. It challenged the validity of the ECs given to three mining blocks in the area earlier this year.

The NGT impugned (called into question) the ECs and restrained all mining activities in the area by construction company NKC Projects Pvt Ltd. “Impugned ECs dated 19.04.2022 are hereby set aside. PP/respondent 4 is restrained from carrying on any mining activities pursuant to impugned EC,” the order read.

NKC Projects Pvt Ltd, the project proponent, had proposed that it be allowed to mine 1.81 ha in Block 1, 1.29 ha in Block 2 and 2.90 ha in Block 4. It was given clearance for the same May 19, 2022 by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Jammu & Kashmir, which was challenged by Bhat.

The order stated that according to the appellant, “All the three proposals were rejected by the (administration-appointed) J&K Expert Appraisal Committee (JKEAC) on the ground that the area for which ECs were applied, are already overexploited; depleted to a large extent due to heavy illegal mining.” “Shaliganga Nallah is a feeding channel for the Hokersar wetland and mining activity may be detrimental to natural flow and quality of water flowing into Hokersar; irrigation kuhls are also present within the mining site,” it added.  (04 Oct. 2022)

NGT stays mining by Gurgaon-based company in Budgam stream, terms allotment illegal.  (16 Aug. 2022)

Some More Repots on Judicial Interventions into Riverbed Mining in 2022

Supreme Court No Mining in Wildlife Sanctuaries & National Parks In a significant order, the Supreme Court on June 3 2022 directed that each protected forest should have an Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of 1 km. The Court further directed that no permanent structure will be allowed within the ESZ. Mining within national wildlife sanctuary or national park cannot be permitted and thus will not be allowed. If the existing ESZ goes beyond 1 km buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such extended boundary shall prevail.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and Aniruddha Bose passed the directions in applications filed in the TN Godavarman Thirumalpad case. Justice Bose read out the operative portion of the judgment. The Chief Conservator of Forests of each state has been directed to make a list of subsisting structures at the ESZs and submit a report to the court in 3 months.  (03 June 2022)  

Rajasthan State Is Trustee Of All Natural Resources: HC High Court, Jaipur has recently directed the State to ensure compliance of law and prevent illegal mining, encroachments etc. in the Forests, Wild Life Sanctuaries, Forest Reserves, Tiger Reserves, etc. situated at Ranthambore, Sariska, Nahargarh, Jhalana and other forest reserves. In a batch of writ petitions concerning the issue, the court noted that it is a very sorry state of affairs that the concerned authorities have not carried out their duties for the reasons best known to them, in spite of notification issued under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and other relevant Legislations.

“Once there is a breach of a public trust and the notifications of the Government of India qua environment and forest are not adhered to and necessary compliances are not made, it becomes duty of this Court to act as a custodian and to take appropriate measures and also the duty of Government of the State and the Executives concerned that the said job be carried out to preserve the natural resources in their pristine purity so as to enforce the Doctrine of Public Trust”, the court said.  (24 May 2022)

Uttarakhand HC stays new mining rules, issues notice to govt The Nainital High Court has stayed the new mining rules (Uttarakhand Minor-Minerals (Concession) (Amendment) Rules, 2021) notified by the state govt on Oct 28 2021. The court has also issued notices to state govt, director geology and mining unit (under industries dept), dist mining officer Nainital & sub-divisional magistrate Nainital. The respondents have been directed to reply to the notices within four weeks.

The division bench of acting chief justice SK Mishra and Justice Alok Kumar Verma gave these directions while hearing a petition filed by Nainital-based Satyendra Kumar Tomar in Dec 2021. The petitioner said: “The notification is an attempt to indulgingly convert state mining policy of competitive bidding into a mutual consent cum recommendation.” According to the petition, the notification was violative of Article 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India, as it provides for allotment of mining leases by way of recommendatory procedure rather than by way of competitive bidding in total disregard of the State Mining Policy of 2017.

“Despite issuance of another office on November 10, 2021 by the state government, which provides for a proper competitive e-tender/e-bidding even on affected abadi (residential) and agricultural land, mining interests purely on the basis of recommendations are still being handed out arbitrarily to vested interests on private lands”, the petition added.  (7 Jan. 2022)

The petition alleged that the new mining policy was rolled out without taking approval from the MoEF&CC. It also alleged that due process was not followed while issuing mining leases to private parties and potential damage to the environment was ignored. In the new policy, the first right of quarrying on up to 5 ha would be given to its owner and no individual will be leased out the quarrying right for two areas.

It also entails that the govt would give land on open bidding on all those reserved areas where its main three agencies – Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) and Uttarakhand Forest Development Corp (UFDC) do not carry any river-bed mining. (7 Jan 2022)

HC orders govt to stop mining along Ganga in Haridwar Hearing a petition by Haridwar-based ashram, Matri Sadan, against mining activities along the Ganga in Haridwar, the high court on March 16 2022 ordered the state government to temporarily halt all mining operations between Raiwala and Bhogpur areas of the district. The division bench of acting chief justice Sanjay Kumar Mishra and justice RC Khulbe also made MCG a party in the case and asked the government to submit its response to the petition within two weeks.

In its petition, Matri Sadan has requested the court to stop mining, stone crushing, and quarrying along the Ganga in Haridwar. Besides, the PIL also asks for keeping stone crushers at least 5 km away from Ganga and shutting down all hydel projects on the revered river and its tributaries. The petition also points out that the MOEF&CC had, in 2020, prohibited mining in the four areas of Haridwar — Bishanpur, Shyampur, Bhogpur and Chidiyapur. The decision was taken after an NMCG order (dated October 9, 2018) to this effect. However, the Uttarakhand forest department is undertaking mining in these areas in violation of the order, adds the petition.  (17 March 2022)

HC seeks reply on plea challenging govt’s dredging policy High Court on May 11 asked both the state government and the Centre to file a reply within four weeks on a PIL that sought a stay on the state’s dredging policy alleging it encourages illegal river mining. The PIL filed by Matri Sadan in Haridwar which is actively associated with the cause of saving the Ganga said that illegal river mining is being encouraged in the state under the garb of Uttarakhand State Dredging Policy 2021.

The petition says that the river dredging policy provides that the river which is to be dredged will be surveyed first. Dredging will then be done to the extent that the flow of the river is not obstructed. The material that comes out in the process will be collected on the banks of the river. However, this raw material will not be transported unless the state government permits it. However, the petition alleges that the state govt is using the raw material commercially under the guise of river dredging. A stay was sought on the policy. (11 May 2022)

HC bans mining in reserve forest areas The High Court heard a PIL against the permission granted to private persons for mining work in the reserved forest area. A division bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice RC Khulbe has asked Secretary Forest to submit a reply in four weeks, banning mining on the basis of earlier orders. The court asked to explain why the earlier order is not being complied with. How are private people being allowed mining in reserved forest areas. The next hearing will be after four weeks.

Bajpur resident Ramesh Kamboj has filed a PIL saying that the state government is giving or going to give mining work in the reserve forest area to private people. The government cannot give mining work in the reserve forest to private people, for this it is necessary to take the permission of the central government. Only government agencies can do mining. In this case, in 2015, the special appeal of the state government was rejected by the Supreme Court. Even after this order, the state government is giving mining leases to private people in reserve forests.  (29 Sept. 2022)

HC voids mining rule The High Court has quashed the State Government’s mining rule that allowed it to allot mining leases to bhumidhars (landowners) by way of recommendatory procedure instead of a competitive bidding process. A bench led by Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi found the rule to be in contravention of the Supreme Court’s judgment related to the allotment of 2G spectrum delivered in 2012.

“It pains us to see the way in which the State is letting its valuable resource being exploited with hardly any return,” the bench, also comprising Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe, observed. The 26 September 2022 order quashed the state’s notification issued on 28 October 2021 that amended Rule 3 of the Uttarakhand Minor Minerals (Concession) Rules, 2001. The amended rule allowed a bhumidhar to use soil, sand, rock, boulders, gravel, etc excavated in his own property for the purpose of construction on his property.

Dismissing the state’s explanation, the HC said, “The minor minerals are the property of the State. Merely because the same gets deposited on the lands belonging to the bhoomidhars during the flooding season, it does not become the private property of the bhoomidhar.” The court noted that it supported the state’s objective behind the amendment, however, did not approve of the manner in which it intended to execute it. The bench said in the garb of permitting removal of the deposit to make the land available for farming, the state has actually granted substantial mining leases.  (16 Oct. 2022) Satendra Tomar, a resident of Haldwani, challenged the new mining policy of the government by filing a petition. The petitioner said that due to the new policy, the mining lease holders are facing economic loss.  (14 Oct. 2022)

HC bans mechanized riverbed mining The High Court has banned mining by machines in all the rivers which has been damaging the river eco system. The court has issued orders to all the district magistrates. Fixing the next hearing of the case after 21 days on Jan 12 2023, the court has also summoned the reply from the Secretary of Mines through an affidavit on the disparities in the royalty of rivers and lease mining. Gagan Parasar, a resident of Haldwani and others had filed a PIL in the High Court saying that mining with machines is prohibited as per the rules despite that mechanized mining is happening across the state. (19 Dec 2022)

Odisha Illegal sand mining, a theft of govt revenue and an offence: NGT The illegal sand mining amounts to theft of govt revenue and is liable for prosecution under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, the Eastern Zone bench of the NGT ruled while disposing of a petition on the illegal sand mining in Kharasrota river in Masudpur Mouza of Jajpur district. The State Pollution Control Board is directed to conduct computation of Environmental Compensation and royalty and other dues and recovery of the same from the violator state, the NGT bench of Amit Sthalekar and Saibal Dasgupta ordered in a 15-page judgment.  (19 Jan. 2022)

Ensure proper enforcement of sand mining regulations “The provisions and guidelines of Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016 and Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining 2020 are to be enforced with new sand mining leases which are to be auctioned by the district administration in the future,” NGT’s East Zone Bench in Kolkata said on March 3 2022 while hearing a petition alleging unauthorised sand mining by a lessee. The petition alleged widespread degradation of the Mahanadi river bed due to unchecked sand mining by the lessee at Nuapatana under Tangi-Choudwar tehsil in Cuttack district. The petition was filed by Srikant Kumar Pakal and other residents of the area, and advocate Sankar Prasad Pani appeared on behalf of the petitioners.

The bench of Justice B Amit Sthalekar (Judicial Member) and Saibal Dasgupta (Expert Member) imposed environmental compensation of Rs. 38.28 lakh on a lessee for extracting sand without a valid consent to operate. The bench expected the lessee to pay the environmental compensation within three months, with Collector Cuttack being directed to recover the amount in accordance to the law on non-payment.  It said that a study on annual replenishment of sand may be carried out which would serve as a guideline for allocation of various sand mining leases and the quantity of sand to be permitted for extraction.  (05 March 2022)

NGT panel to probe illegal sand mining NGT’s East Zone bench in Kolkata on March 15 has constituted a committee to probe illegal mining of sand by a lessee from Budhabalanga river at Dingiria under Badsahi Tahasil in Mayurbhanj district on an application which came up alleging illegal mining by a lessee without renewal of environmental clearance & consent to operate and excess mining causing huge loss to the state exchequer.

According to the order, the petition had pointed out that the daily mining permissible limit is 9 cubic metres and annual sand mining capacity is 2,000 cubic metres whereas the lessee is extracting 2,295 cubic metres per day and 4.819 lakh cubic metres per year which is 240 times of the permissible limit. Consequently, it was causing huge revenue loss to the State exchequer of around Rs 43.68 crore considering the value of one cubic metre of sand to be Rs 1,365 in addition to environmental degradation.  (17 March 2022)

NGT intervention later, panel inspects 2 river beds Acting on the orders of the NGT of East Zone bench-Kolkata, a 4-member official committee, on April 6 2022 inspected two river beds of Budhabalanga in Badasahi block of Mayurbhanj district  following allegation of illegal sand mining in the region. (7 Apr 2022)

Tehsildar missing after NGT whip The Tehsildar of Badasahi in Mayurbhanj went missing just a day before a sand mafia Pradeep Bindhani was arrested on April 30 for lifting sand way beyond his lease area. The Tehsildar identified as Mumtaz Maharana was allegedly hands in gloves with the accused Bindhani and had received severe reprimand from the NGT who after reviewing the ground situation at the Dingira and Arapata riverbed on Budhabalang river had sought an explanation from the district Collector on her conduct. The NGT even asked the Collector why action should not be taken against the Tehsildar.

The NGT had ordered the Collector to collect Rs 17.3 Cr from Bindhani as fine for his illegal lifting of sand. The Revenue Minister, Sudam Marndi hails from the same district.  (2 May 2022)

NGT seeks govt’s reply in 2 weeks The bench of Justice B Amit Sthalekar & Saibal Dasgupta (Expert Member) said, “Additional govt advocate appearing for the State, prays for & is granted 2 weeks and no more for filing counter-affidavit. In case, his counter affidavit is not filed by Aug 25, the Collector & Dist Magistrate of Mayurbhanj shall be present personally before the Tribunal with his explanation”.

The bench had constituted a committee to ascertain the veracity of the allegations in the petition on April 20. According to the August 3 order, SPCB had filed an affidavit along with the inspection report in which Rs 12.35 crore was calculated as the total compensation to be levied on the lessee for damaging the environment and illegal operation of the quarry without valid consent to operate. “The lessee has changed the natural river flow of Budhabalanga river water at Mahupura through random and mechanical sand mining and by creating sand bandh,” the committee had observed in its report.

The committee also recommended construction of concrete wall at the damage site of the river embankment and massive plantation of native species to protect the river bed from further damage. The committee further directed the tehsildar/additional tehsildar of Badasahi to take necessary action with immediate effect to stop operation of Balanga sand quarry, Mahupura till obtaining of valid environmental clearance and other permissions. (6 Aug 2022)

NGT halts mining on Brahmani river bed The NGT on Aug 26 2022 ordered a halt to sand mining on the Brahmani river bed in Dharmasala block until a study report of the annual replenishment rate of sand is available with the Jajpur Collector. Alok Malik and three others of the locality had filed the petition in 2021 alleging the use of a mechanical excavator by a private lessee for carrying out sand mining even during monsoon on Brahmani river sand bed in Dharmasala block.  (27 Aug. 2022)

NGT slaps hefty fine for sand mining in Budhabalanga The NGT has cracked the whip on sand mining in the Budhabalanga river bed in Mayurbhanj district, imposing hefty fines totalling over ₹36 crore in three separate cases — among the highest penalties imposed on individuals in a case involving minor minerals, such as sand, in the State.  (01 Sept. 2022)

The SPCB, which inspected the sand mining, reported that the excessive mining changed the natural river flow of river water through random and mechanical sand mining. It said mining occurred beyond lease area, without maintaining the safety zone and distance from the river bridge.  (02 Sept. 2022)

NGT seeks FIR against tehsildar, slaps Rs 1cr fine on lessee The NGT rapped the District administration of Balasore over illegal sand mining in Subranarekha riverbed. The tribunal has directed filing of an FIR against former Tehsildar of Basta during the period 2017 to 2021 and penalised the accused of Rs 1 crore. As an interim measure, the NGT directed one Rajesh Khatua from Jaleswar, Balasore to deposit Rs 1 crore towards environmental compensation to SPCB within a period of 1 month till final computation of environmental compensation is carried out by SEIAA.

The direction came after the joint committee constituted by the Tribunal to probe into the allegations of environmental degradation in the area due to indiscriminate sand mining in Subarnarekha, submitted its report. The NGT in 2021 had directed Odisha government to stop sand mining in Subarnarekha River along Jaleswar Tehsil in the district till further orders. The locals had alleged that illegal and rampant sand mining in the region has resulted in the depletion of water level, change in the course of the river. Moreover, the approach road constructed inside the river is allegedly obstructing its natural flow. Besides, the villagers had complained that they are being exposed to air pollution caused by the transportation of excavated sand in open truck. (14 Oct 2022)

Haryana NGT slaps Rs 18.7-cr fine for illegal mining in Yamunanagar NGT has imposed a penalty of Rs 18.7 crore on three mine leaseholders for illegal mining, diversion of river flow and failure to develop green belts, install CCTV cameras and GPS system on vehicles. All three mining sites are in Yamunanagar district. The NGT-appointed monitoring committee led by Justice Pritam Pal (retd) found that the leaseholder diverted the Yamuna’s flow to extract more sand. The committee noticed that mining was carried out beside the river’s embankment. As per norms, the mining site should be 500 m from the embankment.  (22 Nov. 2022) The compensation to be deposited by erring mining firms would be deposited with Haryana SPCB. It would be utilised for restoration of the environment by preparing and executing an action plan in consultation with the dist magistrate. The plan needs to cover restoration of degraded areas, post-mining remedial measures, restoring natural flow of river and taking other restitution activities.   (22 Nov. 2022)

NGT restrains firm from mining in Yamunanagar village The NGT has passed an order restraining a private firm, Balaji Infra, from undertaking riverbed mining in the Yamuna in Jairampur Jagir village. The NGT passed this order on May 24, after hearing an appeal filed by Junaid Ayubi, who alleged that the application of the firm was only for sand mining, but it had been granted EC for boulder, gravel and sand. In January, the EC was granted by the SEIAA to this project for a year. However, sources said Balaji Infra started mining in this block (an area of 33.85 ha) on May 19 after obtaining other necessary permissions.

Appearing in the case, the appellant’s counsel submitted that no replenishment study was conducted as was mandatory in terms of the enforcement and monitoring guidelines for sand mining under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and order of this Tribunal passed on March 11, 2020. The appellant’s counsel added that other violations were also committed while granting EC. The NGT order reads, “The grant of EC without prior replenishment study is prima facie illegal. Instream mining is also not permissible. The source of water availability was also required to be looked into. Thus, the impugned EC may be liable to be quashed without prejudice to fresh consent being granted, after the replenishment study, excluding the area falling within the river stream and taking other precautions,” the order added.  (27 May 2022)

NGT stops mining in 3 more villages in Yamunanagar The NGT has directed on May 31 2022 the Haryana govt to stop the mining of boulder and gravel in Mandoli Ghaggar (West) and (East), Kanalsi, and Jairampur Jagir villages of Yamunanagar district. The NGT directed SPCB and SEIAA to recover environmental compensation from the firms for mining boulder & gravel illegally without any environmental clearance or consent for mining such minerals. The NGT directed the firms to pay penalty for illegal extraction of groundwater in terms of the Notification dated March 17, 2022, issued by the Haryana Water Resources Authority.

The NGT order reads that the firms were “granted mining leases for mining of sand only in the respective mining sites, and environmental clearance and CTO (consent to operate) and CTE (consent to establish) were granted by the SEIAA and state pollution control board and mining lease contracts were executed for mining sand only. …as per rules, the project proponents were bound to inform without any delay regarding the discovery of new mineral at the lease site but they did not inform the mining department regarding the discovery of boulder and gravel on the lease site and indulged in illegal mining of boulder and gravel”.  (01 June 2022)

Joint team finds no illegal mining, dept states otherwise A joint committee of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh formed by the NGT to check alleged illegal mining changing the flow of Yamuna in Belgarh village of Chhachhrauli block in Yamunanagar has prepared a contradictory report to be submitted to the green court. The joint team of 14 members, including officials of pollution control board, SEIAA, mining and revenue departments of Saharanpur and Yamunanagar districts, said during inspection, no illegal mining was observed at the UP-Haryana border and adjacent area of Belgarh village. The inspection was carried out on May 12, when complainant Jahangir accompanied the team. (4 June 2022)

NGT directs recovery of ₹50cr fine in 2016 illegal mining case NGT has ordered the Haryana chief secretary (CS) to ensure the recovery of Rs 50 crore fine from former BSP MLC Mohammed Iqbal’s brother Mohammed Ali and two of his aides — Mohd Inam and Amit Jain. The three were fined after they were found “involved in illegal mining” in Saharanpur. In 2016, NGT had slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on five persons for “illegal mining” in Saharanpur. Two others — Vikal Agarwal and Wajid Ali — were given relief by the Supreme Court in 2019.

The NGT issued orders to Haryana CS on March 10 to ensure recovery from the other three. “We direct the chief secretary of Haryana to take further action for recovery of the amount, to be utilised for restoration of the environment,” said the court in its order. The NGT, in its orders, said it was an indisputable fact that nearly 2,40,704 cubic metres of mined minerals were “illegally” extracted and transported away. “Failure of the authorities in enforcing the order is depriving the State of the amount required to be recovered. And since the amount is to be used for environmental restoration, work of restoration is also suffering” stated the tribunal.  (14 March 2022)

Punjab Ensure sand mining activity doesn’t damage environment: HC The division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli passed the directions to the Punjab govt while hearing a petition by the state challenging the order/letter of Nov 21, 2022, wherein Punjab had been ordered by the SEIAA to immediately stop all mining activities at various desilting sites in the state. The bench in its detailed order on Jan. 11 2023 asked the state (the petitioner) as well as the SEIAA (the respondent) to furnish reports as to the manner in which the sand mining activities are commenced and undertaken by the state at Pathankot, Rupnagar and Fazilka.

On Jan. 10 2023, hearing a petition filed by the Punjab govt claiming shortage of construction material in the state, the high court had allowed the state to carry out mining in these three districts – Rupnagar, Pathankot and Fazilka. The high court had permitted the state to undertake sand mining operations strictly in accordance with the conditions stated by SEIAA in its order dated Dec 30, 2022, at Rupnagar, Fazilka and Pathankot except the area in and across river Ravi in Pathankot district adjacent to international border with Pakistan.

The High Court had agreed to allow the state to undertake mining operations after the counsel for the other respondents as well as the intervener(s) also did not oppose the prayer of the petitioner (Punjab) to commence sand mining in accordance with the permission granted by SEIAA. The matter will now be heard along with a petition already filed in public interest in the matter.  (12 Jan. 2023)

Tamil Nadu Form permanent panel to check illegal mining: NGT The Southern Bench of the NGT has directed the Chief Secretary to form a permanent committee of senior officials to monitor sensitive areas in Chennai where illegal sand mining is happening and act against such violators. The direction came in a case related to allegations of illegal beach sand mining at the mouth of the Cooum near the Napier Bridge and in the coastal ESZs CRZ-1 A and 1 B, where sand mining is prohibited under the CRZ Notifications, 2011 and 2019.

The Bench found from the reports submitted by the authorities that no permission was granted for mining in that area and the Water Resources Department was taking steps to channelise the mouth of the Coocum river that joins the Bay of Bengal to avoid flooding. On the other hand, the joint committee formed by the NGT submitted that even for dredging in CRZ-1 A and 1 B areas, clearance had to be obtained from the Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA). Further, the Additional Chief Secretary for Environment, Forest and Climate Change has been directed to issue instructions on the requirement of clearance for dredging in the eco-sensitive zones of CRZ-1 A and 1 B from the CZMA.

The NGT directed the police to undertake regular patrolling in such areas; if any heavy vehicles were brought to the eco-sensitive zones, they should take action for carrying out illegal activities and confiscate the vehicles. The Chennai Collector, in consultation with the police, was directed to install CCTVs in such hotspots, monitor & take action against violators. “It is very difficult for the Tribunal to monitor each and every allegation of illegal sand mining in the areas where such activities are reported to be taking place. It is for the regulators to take appropriate measures to check such activities and bring those who are committing such illegal activities before law. There must be a regular mechanism and regular committee for this purpose,” the Bench said. (11 Apr 2022)

NGT seeks report on illegal sand mining on Cooum The Southern Bench of the NGT asked the district collector and the Joint Commissioner of Police (East) to appear before it if a report on the illegal sand mining from the Cooum River mouth is not submitted by December 21. Based on a petition filed by MR Thiyagarajan, president of the Meenava Thanthai KR Selvaraj Kumar Meenava Nala Sangam, the NGT had constituted a committee to look into illegal sand mining from the Cooum. The committee, comprising members from various depts, including the PWD, the Collector and city police, carried out an inspection of the area on Oct 7.

However, the NGT bench stated that although 3 months had passed since the constitution of the committee and two months since the inspection, a report has not been filed. “Unfortunately, the District Collector in that capacity has not filed any independent statement, so far. That shows the non-understanding of the powers vested with the District Collector, especially when serious environmental issues have been projected before this tribunal,” said an order issued by the bench of judicial member Justice K Ramakrishnan & expert member K Satyagopal. (16 Dec 2021)

Goa NGT raps Govt on sand mining notice NGT has expressed its displeasure at the SEIAA for failing to respond even after two months to the tribunal’s notice. The Goa authority had been asked by the NGT to file its say in response to an appeal challenging EC granted for sand mining in Goa. The appellant, GRSPN challenged the EC granted by the SEIAA allowing sand mining in four river stretches in the state. “The matter was earlier considered on November 10, 2021. The tribunal has said that it is refraining for now from quashing the ECs due to non-submission by the SIEAA. It has given the SIEAA one week’s time now to respond.  (19 Feb. 2022)

W Bengal NGT directs DM to look into illegal boulder mining The NGT has directed the District Magistrate, Jalpaiguri to look into the illegal boulder mining and transportation from Chel river range in the district without requisite consent, resulting in air and noise pollution. A complaint has been filed before the green court attaching photographs of the environmental violation along Chel river range in Manabari Busty village of Malbazar Sub division of Jalpaiguri dist. (13 Jan 2022)

Madhya Pradesh NGT stops mining in ecologically sensitive Madhav NP NGT restrained MP’s mining department and district collector of Shivpuri from granting a lease for mining operations in the area. The order was given on Sep 21, 2022. The NGT had constituted a panel in July to submit a factual and action-taken report within two months over the issue. The joint committee submitted its report on Sep 13, 2022. The mining and geology dept of the state will undertake the required actions for reclamation of land and implementation of the mine closure plan within 2 months & submit the report with photographs within 3 months, the bench said.  (04 Oct. 2022)

Karnataka SC notice to govt on plea against sand mining near Malaprabha The Supreme Court has issued notice to the government on a plea to quash the licences for sand mining granted around fertile lands, close to Malaprabha river, which had witnessed a devastating flood in 2019. A bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and A S Bopanna sought a response from the state govt and others within six weeks on a petition filed by Arun Hadli and another person. The petitioners led by advocate Sanjay M Nuli questioned the validity of the Karnataka High Court’s Aug 31, 2021 order, declining to entertain a PIL in this matter.  (20 April 2022)

Summary All through 2022, Indian Courts particularly the National Green Tribunal (NGT) have dealt with several litigations and petitions pertaining to various aspects related to mining of riverbed minerals in unlawful, unsustainable manner. The reports reveal that Centre to State Governments have been further weakening the regulatory processes governing the riverbed mining processes. At the same time, they have failed to ensure implementation of sustainable sand mining practices and have shown no regard to court orders mandating District Survey Reports, Replenishment Study before approving riverbed mining plans and placement of effective monitoring apparatus to check illegal mining and violations during mining operations.

It is quite disappointing to see that the judiciary is increasingly required to exam thoroughly the entire riverbed mining governance structures beginning with formation or modification in policy; to mining plan approval processes; to make regulators ensure execution of norms and application of monitoring mechanism, to fixing responsibilities of respective agencies apart from deterring violations and illegalities. This only shows that the governments have no intention to improve and regulators wish to continue with business as usual approach. 

Though presently the judiciary is the only hope for mining ravaged rivers and affected people, however its orders generally have not gone beyond formation of committees, imposition of fines, reprimanding of regulators or at best banning the mining in particular cases. These measures have brought temporary respite in limited sense and are broadly proving ineffective to bring any significant or systematic changes in the manner governments’ machinery operates. The regulators also are becoming used to judicial discourse and continue to prioritize revenue benefits and miners’ interests over governance and sustainability.

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (

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