SC agrees to examine plea for CBI probe into illegal sand mining
The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to examine a petition seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into illegal sand mining, which is said to be causing severe environmental degradation in the country.
A bench led by Justice SA Bobde issued notices to the Centre and five states where the illegal sand mining is reportedly rampant.
The bench was initially reluctant to entertain the matter and asked the petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan to approach a high court. “Let us have the advantage of the high court order,” the Justice Bobde said.
It later agreed to look into the issue after Bhushan pressed that illegal sand mining was causing environmental degradation in a number of states. The top court then issued notices to five states — Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Response has also been sought from the CBI as the petitioner, M Alagarsamy, has prayed for an investigation by the agency. The petitioner has contended that no environmental clearance (EC) should be granted for any sand mining project without an appropriate environmental impact assessment (EIA), environmental management plan (EMP), and public consultation.
He wants a directive to the Centre refraining it from issuing EC for sand mining projects without taking into consideration the overall impact the project would have on the region.
Bhushan said the petition had highlighted how illegal mining had caused severe environmental degradation. “It is a rampant problem across the country that needs to be tackled immediately,” he submitted.
“Because of non-implementation of sustainable sand mining practices, 2016, lack of an effective policy and/or mechanism to curb the illegal and indiscriminate sand mining activities has led to the rampant growth of such illegal, indiscriminate and excessive sand mining activities in the country,” the petition said.
“Inasmuch the right to life of the citizens of the country is being gravely affected as not only is the environment being adversely affected, but even the law and order situation in the country has worsened,” it read.
In 2016, the Union environment ministry had issued “Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines”. According to the norms, sand mining permits for an area up to 5 hectares will be issued by the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority, headed by the district collector. The rules also state what kind of sand extraction can be exempted from permits. “Most of the sand mining issues are handled by ministry of mines. We cannot do much except issuing guidelines,” a senior environment ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.
When asked, the Punjab government said it would comment on the matter once it receives the court notice.
India and China top a list of countries where illegal sand mining has become a major environmental problem, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in May this year.
In 2017, China recorded the highest use of cement (which includes sand aggregates) in the world, at an estimated 2.4 billion tonnes. India came in second, with 270 million tonnes, followed by the USA (86.3 million tonnes), the report said.