Apex court expresses serious concern over damage to the environment and water sources caused by indiscriminate sand mining
In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has said that people found removing sand from river banks and beds without valid licence can be prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code even if the offence attracts provisions of mining regulations Act.
The order was given last week to settle the law on whether the provisions in the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act operate as a bar against prosecution of a person for theft (Section 379) and other related provisions under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Conflicting judgements from high courts on this point prompted the apex court bench, comprising Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice Pinaki Chandra Bose, to give the ruling.
Lawyer for the appellants in the case had argued that MMDR Act puts a bar on even registration of FIR and there can be no investigation in this respect unless the magistrate gives such a direction on the complaint of an authorised official.
The bench, however, disagreed with this. “We are of the definite opinion that the ingredients constituting the offence under the MMDR Act and the ingredients of dishonestly removing sand and gravel from the river beds without consent, which is the property of the State, is a distinct offence under the IPC,” says the judgement. The judgement adds that a magistrate having jurisdiction can take cognisance of such an offence on a police report “without awaiting the receipt of complaint that may be filed by the authorised officer for taking cognizance in respect of violation of various provisions of the MMRD Act”.
Note on UNEP alert
In the judgement, the court has also expressed serious concern over the ecological damage caused by sand mining while referring to the UNEP Global Environment Alert Service Report. The report talks about lack of proper scientific method leading to indiscriminate mining and how weak governance and corruption have led to widespread illegal sand mining. The report also refers to the situation in India and states there is evidence to show illegal trading and existence of influential mafias.
The report also refers to the removal of 12 million tones of sand from the Vembanad lake catchment in Kerala, which has led to the lowering of the river water by 7 to 15 metre a year. The report talks of how incision in the bed can cause alluvial aquifer to drain, resulting in loss of aquifer storage and how indiscriminate mining can lead to increased flood frequency. Of even greater concern is the lowering of water table leading to water shortage and aggravating drought as tributaries of major rivers dry up when sand mining reaches certain thresholds.
The judgement also refers to the damage to economy caused by indiscriminate mining. Beach erosion affects tourism. Destruction of benthic fauna can impact fishing and agriculture could be affected by loss of agricultural land because of river erosion and lowering of water table. Erosion also impacts engineered structures such as bridges, embankment walls and dams.
Down To Earth has been consistently reporting the rampant illegal mining from India’s rivers and beaches and its ill-effects through a series of articles (See ’Cauvery gouged’ and ’Sand mining: a deep rooted nexus').
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