Clears environment management plans for 63 sites; mining officials cite shortage of construction material for show of haste
The Punjab government is hastening with allotment of leases for sand mining in the state. Within a month of notifying the Punjab Minor Mineral Rules of 2013, the state approved sand mining at 63 sites. According to the state mining department, of the 209 notified sites in the state, the department cleared environmental management plans of 63 sites on May 10. The Supreme Court had recently directed all states and Union Territories to inform the court about the status of formation of laws related to mining sand and gravel, keeping in mind rampant exploitation of river beds, and the Punjab government has been quick to act on these directions, although the new rules might overlook environmental concerns.
The next step, according to the new rules, is that district-level committees, headed by deputy commissioners, would make site visits following which approval would be granted by commissioners of respective districts. Incidentally, the rules limit the scope for Punjab Pollution Control Board as the district-level committees would now have the last word on environment management plans.
Blow to health of rivers
“The new rules are big blow to the health of our rivers and tributaries as many of the illegal mining sites from where sand and gravel was taken have been regularised by the mining department by clearing their environment management plans,” says Dinesh Chadha, a Right-To-Information activist, who had previously exposed the state government's plan to regularise illegal mining sites.
Punjab mining department officials, however, claim that illegal extraction of the sand would stop with the implementation of the new rules. “The new rules make weighing scales mandatory in sand mining sites by which quantum of sand mined from each of the sites would be monitored by the local mining department officials,” says a senior official from the mining department.
They claim that the ban on mining imposed by state high court last year has led to an overall increase in the price of construction materials, which has caused hardship to many people. The aim of the new rules is to ensure that people get sand, gravel and bricks at very nominal rates, they add.
The 63 category C sites (of less than five ha) that await the respective deputy commissioners' clearance include 21 sites in Ferozepur district, followed by Pathankot (10 sites), Ludhiana (six), Amritsar (five), Tarn Taran, Nawanshahr and Moga (four each), Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur (three each), Fazilka (two) and Ropar (one). Of these, 11 sites are for mining gravel—eight in Pathankot, two in Gurdaspur and one in Hoshiarpur.
The mining department has further stated that by the beginning of the next month, category B sites (five to 50 ha) would be also considered where mining was stopped following Punjab and Haryana High Court orders in 2012. On the other hand, 55 of the 89 category-A (more than 50 ha) sites in the state have been cleared by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
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