Why unlawful sand mining in India needs good governance

Violation of environmental laws needs pressing attention by officials; a strict law enforcement is needed against illegal sand mining, says experts

By Divyansh Upadhyay
Published: Wednesday 01 September 2021

Sand, after air and water, is the most-used natural resource. We use it much more than we use oil. It’s used to make food, wine, toothpaste, glass, microprocessors, beauty care products, paper, paint and plastics. It is also used to construct roads, house, building, dams, etc.

The need for this resource has led to the proliferation of sand mining activities and businesses. The principle driver of this crisis is rapid urbanisation.

More and more people are moving from rural areas into urban. Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, urban communities are growing at a speed and on a scale bigger than any time in human history.

Sand mining is a lucrative business but causes great damage to the environment.

Guidelines by the Government of India

To address the issue of unregulated extraction of sand, the Union ministry of mines prepared a uniform set of framework that can be followed by the states as per their suitability and applicability. The framework document charts out suggestions for various elements of the process chains, starting from the objectives of the states, demand-supply situation, operations, monitoring, transportation and sales of sand, etc.

The Union environment ministry released some guidelines in 2016 that laid emphasis on monitoring of the mined-out material. It recommended alternative sources of extraction of sand and gravel. 

Yet, several cases against illegal sand mining are pending with the National Green Tribunal (NGT).  

The current system has not been fruitful and powerful in helping the circumstances. The current mechanism needs to be revised for effective monitoring of sand and rock mining.

Cases related to sand mining in NGT in 2021

  Date of NGT order Location Description
1     15/4/2021 Jeypore, Orissa Related to illegal sand mining in Kharsrota river, Jeypore, Odisha. Illegal mining damaged the river bed and environment.
2      16/4/2021 Paschim Bardhaman, West Bengal Related to illegal sand mining carried out on the river bed of river Ajay within blocks Jamuria and Barbani. 
3     23/6/2021 Jaipur, Rajasthan Minerals mined in villages of Jaipur district. At least 15 mines do informal and destructive mining around the villages. Such activity impacts houses, agricultural fields and health of the people.
4     14/07/2021 Sonipat, Haryana Action was taken by the NGT against illegal mining. DSP Associates, Sonipat, had diverted the natural flow of river by digging a man-made pit 20 foot deep and made a bund to stop the natural river flow.
5      10/8/2021 Paschim Bardhaman , West Bengal The NGT had directed the district magistrate of Paschim Bardhaman to file affidavit providing information regarding the details of mining area, extent of illegal sand mining, quantity, duration of mining, name of the persons carrying out the mining activity and the loss of revenue due to illegal sand mining.
The NGT directed the committee to compute environmental compensation and restore the environment.
6    16/8/2021 Jaipur, Orissa Mechanical excavators to mine sand used during monsoon in violation of Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016 and Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining, 2020.

“Illegal sand mines are everywhere; we often see sand mines near construction sites. Environment ministry guidelines are often not enforced. These guidelines are just advisory in nature. A strong political will is required for this critical business to be sustainable,” said Sumaira Abudlali, founder, Awaaz Foundation, a non-profit. 

She added that strong governance is needed to address the issue.

India is progressing on the technological front, and lot of progress has taken place in remote monitoring as well as surveillance in the field of mining. Hence, it is only reasonable to use technological progression to keep an effective check on mining activities, especially sand mining, in the country.

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