The political storm over IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal’s suspension intensified on Sunday after the environment ministry put illegal mining in Uttar Pradesh, especially Gautam Budh Nagar district, under the scanner.
The Centre’s move came a day after the Samajwadi Party reacted sharply to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday in which she asked him to ensure Nagpal was treated fairly.
According to a senior government official, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has decided to order an internal investigation into illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar.
Nagpal, as the sub-divisional magistrate in the district, had cracked down on the sand mafia operating along the banks of Yamuna river.
Natarajan is keen on getting the inquiry conducted by the ministry’s regional office in Lucknow on extent of illegal mining in the state, with special focus on Gautam Budh Nagar, said the official who did not want to be named.
On Natarajan’s decision to go for an internal probe, an environment ministry official said, “No state government will admit to illegal mining in its jurisdiction after such a big political storm.”
The ministry has six regional offices including one in Lucknow mandated to ensure implementation of central laws on water, air and environment protection. The ministry can initiate action of the basis of reports submitted by the regional offices.
For any mining activity, a mandatory consent to operate is required from the state pollution control board under the Air and Water Acts.
According to a local activist, sand miners in Gautam Budh Nagar operate without the mandatory consent. “Everyone other than environment law enforcers can see that mining is being done illegally.”
As the mining in Gautam Budh Nagar was reportedly being done within 10 km of the Haryana border on banks of Yamuna river, it required the environment ministry’s approval under the Environment Protection Act.
“The sand mafia had no such approval, yet the ministry failed to enforce its rule in a place barely 30 km from its headquarters, Paryavaran Bhavan, in Delhi,” said the activist.