Centre’s NIOT to monitor sand mining in intertidal regions of A&N islands
The Union environment ministry has issued a notification amending the Island Coastal Regulation Zone (ICRZ) notification, 2019, which could give more control to the Centre in selecting sand mining sites in the intertidal zones in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Under the ICRZ notification, sand mining is regulated in the islands, particularly in the intertidal zones. Sand mining is allowed only in non-eco-sensitive areas of ICRZ- 1B (the area between Low Tide Line and High Tide Line shall constitutes ICRZ-1B) as identified by Institute of Ocean Management (IOM), Chennai, under the condition that mining plans shall stipulate sufficient safeguards to prevent damage to the sensitive coastal ecosystem including corals, turtles, crocodiles, bird nesting sites and other protected areas, and is monitored by a high level committee with officials from ministry of water resources, MoEFCC, independent experts etc .
Now with a notification published on June 9, the ministry has allowed the Andaman and Nicobar administration to opt for National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), which is under the Centre, to approve and identify sites for sand mining in ICRZ-1B. IOM, Chennai, is under the department of civil engineering of Anna University, Tamil Nadu.
The ministry has dispensed with the need to hold public consultation for the change in authority for identifying sand mining sites. Under clause (a) of sub-rule (3) of rule 5 of the Environment Protection rules, if the Centre plans to impose prohibition or restrictions on the locations of any industry or the carrying on of processes and operations in an area, it may, by notification in the Official Gazette, give notice of its intention to do so. But now, the ministry has created a rule that it can dispense with the need for public comments whenever they feel it is in public interest to do so.
“We haven’t changed anything in terms of where sand mining can be allowed. By way of this notification, we have only added one more agency that the Andaman and Nicobar administration can consult for identifying areas suitable for sand mining. No eco-sensitive areas will be opened up,” said a joint secretary in the MoEFCC, who is aware of the matter but declined to be identified. According to the notification issued by the ministry, the Central government had received representations from the Andaman and Nicobar administration regarding the inclusion of NIOT.
According to environmentalists, there is going to be a construction boom soon in the islands. A slew of infrastructure projects have been proposed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands to give a major boost to tourism there. Some of these projects include luxury tents and resorts on some islands; two water aerodrome projects in Shaheed and Swaraj islands (formerly Neil and Havelock islands, respectively); a new integrated terminal building at the Port Blair airport; two major township and area development projects on the Great Nicobar island and Little Andaman.
“The amendment is not just about additional institutional jurisdiction. It is likely to ensure greater central government control over permissions related to sand mining in ecologically sensitive intertidal areas of the islands. They appear to be directly related to the controversial tourism and port development proposals for the A&N and Lakshwadeep islands which will require the use and extraction from ICRZ-1B areas,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.