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'None of the 42 mining sites on the Cauvery and Kollidam rivers have environment clearance'
The Madras High Court has admitted a petition that has accused the state's works department of being the biggest illegal miner of sand and has submitted documentary evidence to substantiate the allegations. It says the the department is mining sand from the rivers Cauvery and Kollidam in five districts—Karur, Trichy, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam—by flouting environmental norms.
The petitioners are pressing the court to appoint an inspection team to investigate the nature of violations; a hearing on the petition is slated for July 16.
The petition was filed by Cauvery Neervala Aathara Pathukappu Sangam (CNAPS), a non-profit based in Erode town, before the Madurai bench of the high court. It contends that the state PWD has breached the conditions imposed by the Minor Minerals Concession Rules of 1959. The petitioner, T N Mahendra Kumar, secretary of CNAPS, has alleged that PWD is mining without getting neccessary environmental clearances. “We did approach the State Level Monitoring Committee constituted by the Madras High Court in February, 2012 and submitted evidence, including photographs of rampant illegal mining going on at 42 sites. The committee did not respond to our complaint, so we had to move court,” says Kumar.
District administration gave approvals
Licences for the 42 mining sites were issued by the respective district collectors and no environmental impact assessement was conducted for any of the sites despite the average size of the quarries exceeding five hectares, says the petition. The landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India earlier this year clearly states that EIA for any quarrying site must be conducted for the grant of environmental clearance. When contacted, Karur district collector's office staff said they were not aware of the matter.
The petition also alleges that roads have been built across the Cauvery and Kollidam riverbeds and more than 2,000 lorries ferry the sand from the rivers without any checks day and night. While the state government restricts the usage of mechanised mining to only two heavy earthmovers per mining site, petitioners have said that four to five poclains are engaged in each site. The sand removed from the sites are sold at very high prices, the petition alleges.
Kumar says while storage and transportation by private players is regulated, PWD has given contract to just one contractor, based in Coimbatore, who is linked to the political bigwigs of the state. In some places, the quarrying activities are taking place 500 metres away from the government water supply wells, causing regular distruptions in water supply, the petitions says.
State took over mining of minor minerals in 2002
In 2002, citing massive environmental laws violation, the state government took over the mining of minor minerals and banned private contractors. The move was hailed by many environmentalists. Later, in 2008 and 2011, the Tamil Nadu government even banned the transportation of sand outside the state while regulating the storage of sand for private parties. Since 2004, private contractors have filed a volley of petitions in the Madras High Court as well as lower courts, challenging the orders.
In June 2012, the high court dismissed all the petitions stating that the Tamil Nadu State Government had the right under Section 23 of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957 to make amendments to the laws in view of rampant illegal mining. The court further upheld the decision of the Tamil Nadu state government to regulate mining, citing the doctrine of public trust under which the state anticipates environmental harm and take measures to prevent illegal mining, storage and transportation of sand. Yet another reason for the state government to amend these rules was to ensure that sand available to the common man at reasonable prices and prevent black marketing of sand as a construction material.