Sand mining lobby uses tricks to evade MoEF scrutiny

Ministry panel visiting Greater Noida finds even leased mining areas do not have any environment clearance

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Monday 12 August 2013

Mining is still going on discretely in Greater Noida. Mined sand from the riverbed is bought to some villages where it is collected for a day or two (photo: Soma Basu)

The sand mining lobby active in Greater Noida seems to be desperate to evade government scrutiny. When a Union environment ministry-appointed committee visited the area in Gautam Budh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh on August 7 to inspect status of sand mining along the Yamuna, it found a sand extraction site near Gaddi village flooded with water. Sand miners had apparently pumped water from the Yamuna to flood the banks because they did not want the panel to determine the extent of illegal mining in the area. Three leases have been given to private parties in the area, but not one had obtained environmental clearance.

The three-member panel, comprising director of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Saroj, deputy collector with Indian Bureau of Mines, G C Meena, and director of regional office of MoEF, K K Garg, visited Greater Noida along with local geology and mining department officials. The panel was appointed in the wake of the controversy over IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagapal's suspension  after she took action to curb illegal sand mining in the area. 

They panel members found that illegal mining of sand along Yamuna river had stopped just hours before the panel's visit.

Tell tale evidence

At Gaddi-Samastipur site, the panel found heaps of sand stored and visible impressions of the sand being lifted from the site. “The water was seen just adjacent to these heaps of sand. A village resident informed that there was no water till late night of August 6 and all of sudden water was pumped in huge quantity,” states the panel in a report released on August 10. 

The panel members then approached students of a primary school adjacent to the mining site. They asked the children a few questions. “The children informed that when they left for school in the morning the water level was very low and in about five hours time the entire bank was full of water. One of the village residents also informed that he had crossed this area by boat and had walked on the bank but he was surprised to see water level has gone up on the bank within a span of four hours,” the report stated.

At the confluence of Hindon and Yamuna, near Mamnathalal village, the panel found that a small building had been constructed by the sand miners while JCBs were parked outside the building close to the river bank. The panel noticed deep trenches where heavy vehicles regularly lifted sand. The panel also found that large amounts of sand was stocked by the miners near Zuppa village on Hamidpur-Palwal Road under the Yamuna bridge, at Kundli and Yakutpur villages, too.

While talking to the local people at Zuppa village, the panel found out that in most cases the the local farmers gave away certain portions of their farms to store the sand mined from these river banks. “The villagers lend their farms for storing the sand and it is lifted as and when it is economically viable,” states the report.

It was only at Raipur Khadan village, the panel was informed that 407 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) near the river bank was given on lease to private sand miners. The committee, however, found that out of 407 acres, lease period for 251 acres had already expired in May, while only one site had valid mining lease till September 15, 2013. When the panel asked whether environmental clearance of the leased sites have been ascertained, the state mining department officials informed that no consent to operate was sought from Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, nor any Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted for the sites. The visiting panel concluded that even the leased sites were violating the environmental laws.

Panel recommendations
  • Regulations needed: All states need to frame Minor Mineral Concession Rules within a period of six months and submit their compliance report.
  • Specific permits: In the case of mining leases for riverbed sand mining, specific river stretches should be identified and mining permits/lease should be granted stretch wise, so that the requisite safeguard measures are duly implemented and are effectively monitored by the respective regulatory authorities.
  • Mining depth restriction: The depth of mining may be restricted to 3m/water level, whichever is less
  • Safety zones: For carrying out mining in proximity to any bridge or embankment, appropriate safety zone should be worked out on case to case basis, taking into account the structural parameters, locational aspects and flow rate, and no mining should be carried out in the safety zone so worked out
  • Specify Khasra nos: As per Minor Mineral Concession Rules of UP, the state government is required to grant mine lease area with Khasra Nos. for undertaking mining activities. The mine lease granted should have coordinates identified (latitude and longitude)
  • Environment clearance: All mine leases irrespective of area should obtain environment clearance (EC) as per EIA Notification, 2006 as per Supreme Court order of 2012
  • Cumulative impact assessment: While seeking environmental clearance for carrying out sand mining activity, need to undertake a study for cumulative impact due to sand mining and adopt cluster approach. ‘Cluster Approach’ to be adopted for collection of baseline data, which shall adequately cover every single lease area under consideration before seeking environmental clearance. The cumulative impact study should emphasise on pollution load due to transportation, available infrastructure for transportation, details of transportation of mined out materials as per the Indian Road Congress for both the ways (loaded as well as unloaded trucks)
  • Replenishment study: Need to undertake an annual replenishment study from recognised institution. In case the replenishment is low the mining activity/ production levels shall accordingly be decreased/stopped
  • Protect aquatic life: No in-stream mining should be permitted as it affects the aquatic life
  • In-stream mining: In case the state government wishes to undertake in-stream mining they need to have a study conducted from recognised Institution to examine the impact of mining of plankton, benthic flora and fauna, turbidity downstream and other related environmental parameters
  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of the mining activity to ensure that effective compliance of stipulated environmental conditions and are abiding to the Minor Mineral Concession Rules of the state government
  • Safeguards: Appropriate disaster management safeguards in view of the high seismicity of an area

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