New Maharashtra policy ignores resident’s concerns, law
Sand dredgers will soon be back in business along the Bankot creek bordering coastal Raigad and Ratnagiri districts in Maharashtra. They had been silent for over a month after the Bombay High Court banned sand mining in the state on September 24, after people who mine sand manually filed a petition. “A month ago, it was impossible to stand near the dredging site because of the noise,” said Anis Jalal, president of Sagar Shramik Haat Pati Vaalu Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha, a union of manual excavators. A new policy of the state okays mechanical dredging.
The state government on October 20 announced its sand mining policy. Though the policy makes it mandatory for companies to take permission of gram sabhas for mining, it vests decision-making powers with the sub-divisional officer (SDO). In case of a dispute, the SDO’s decision would be final. The policy also bans use of suction pumps in dredging and provides for a two per cent environment cess on earnings from mining. After the policy was announced, the court, on October 27, lifted its ban. While doing so, the court specified that excavation should be limited to a depth of two metres. It asked the state to make offences in this regard non-bailable.
Policy favours sand mafia
Activists and residents say the government has failed to address key concerns: dredging has damaged the environment, pushed manual excavators to the brink of starvation and ruined fishing. Sumaira Abdulali, Mumbai environmentalist whose Awaaz Foundation filed the first public interest petition in the high court against illegal mechanical dredging in 2006, said the policy only legalises existing practices. “By giving the final authority to SDO, a revenue officer, the policy denies the local community its share in decisions that are vital to its well being,” she said. Residents of the area who depend on manual sand mining accused the government of ignoring their plight. Anis Jalal noted the policy ignores needs of manual miners. “It retains the auctioning of mines which involves large sums of money,” he said.
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