The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on 5 August 2013 banned mining or removal of sand from river beds across the country without licence and Environmental Clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The NGT bench headed by Chairperson Justice, Swatanter Kumar passed orders on the plea filed by the National Green Tribunal Bar Association on sand mining in major rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Gomti and Ravathi.
The order was given on a plea alleging that such activities were going on in UP with the willful connivance of its State Machinery. Especially, the petition mentioned the suspension of an IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, who had cracked down on sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh.
National Green Tribunal (NGT) Order
1. The tribunal stated that majority of people removing minerals from the river bed had no licence to extract sand. The miners are required to obtain licence from the competent authorities depending upon the area of mining.
2. The tribunal also stated that the order would be applicable across the nation as the petition raised substantial environmental issues.
3. The bench stated the clearance has to be obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) or State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
4. The Tribunal also directed all the mining officers and police officers concerned of all the states to ensure compliance of its orders.
5. The tribunal stated besides violation of law, illegal mining activity on a large scale causes loss of revenue running into lakhs of crores of rupees.
6. The bench reiterated that the Supreme Court judgment making environmental clearance mandatory for mining of minor mineral, including sand from river beds.
Supreme court orders
The Supreme Court in February 2012 directed states to grant lease for mining of minor minerals including sand, gravel, clay, marble and other stones - even in a less than five hectares area only after getting environmental clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest. Earlier, plots which were less than five hectares didn’t needed any permission for mining.
The Supreme Court also took into account the adverse effect of such activities on the biodiversity. It stated that Sand mining on either side of the rivers upstream and in-stream – is one of the causes for environmental degradation and also a threat to the biodiversity. Over the years, India's rivers and riparian ecology have been badly affected by the alarming rate of unrestricted sand mining.
What is the importance of sand for River Ecology?
1. Sand provides stability and structure to rivers
2. Sand stores water and acts like as a filter for polluted water.
3. Sand acts as a habitat to river biodiversity
4. Indiscriminate mining can force the river to change its course and this may lead to widespread floods.
5. River takes a long time for replenishing the sand.
6. Naturally rivers flowing down from mountains bring sand and soil to the plain.
Indian laws for protecting the nature
1. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,
2. Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
3. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) act, 1974.
As per environmental rules, the State Government has the power to allow mining in an area of less than five hectares. For the above five hectares permission of the Union Environment Ministry is required. This provision has been manipulated by the State Governments by breaking bigger mining areas into smaller than five hectare units to bypass the mandatory permission from the Union Environment Ministry.