New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) The National Green Tribunal Monday stepped in to ban sand mining from river beds across India without prior environmental approval, saying illegal extraction of sand was leading to huge monetary and environmental losses.
The order followed a petition filed by the National Green Tribunal Bar Association as a reaction to the suspension of Uttar Pradesh's IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, who had taken on the sand mafia.
The tribunal said "largescale mining activity was carried on in violation of laws, causing losses to state revenues to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees".
The five-member bench headed by tribunal chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar asked the states to respond by Aug 14.
The bench said the contention was that most of those removing minerals from the river have no licence to extract sand.
"In the meantime, we restrain any person, company, authority to carry out any mining activity or removal of sand, from river beds anywhere in the country without obtaining environmental clearance from environment ministry and licence from the competent authorities," the order said.
Nagpal, a 28-year-old 2009 batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service, was suspended by the Uttar Pradesh government July 29.
The state government said she was suspended because she ordered the demolition of a mosque wall, and this could have led to communal tensions. Nagpal has denied the charge.
As the suspension led to public outcry, the prime minister said in parliament that rules that have been laid down will be followed.
"We are in touch with the state government to get details of the case," he said in response to a question on the government's stand.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to the prime minister to ensure fair treatment to the woman officer.
The green tribunal said it had been alleged that largescale illegal and impermissible mining was going on, on the bank of Yamuna, Ganges, Chambal, Gaumti and Revati rivers among others in the country.
"Removal of minerals from river beds was posing threat to their flow, forests on river banks and most seriously to the environment of these areas," it said.
Citing a Supreme Court order, it said: "Anyone carrying mining activity in less than five hectares are expected to take environment clearance."
"Besides, sand mining on either side of the rivers ... is one of the causes for environmental degradation and a threat to the biodiversity," it said.
The bench directed deputy commissioners, superintendents of police and mining authorities of all states to ensure compliance of the order.
Speaking to reporters after the decree, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said "illegal sand mining is violation of the law" and assured "crackdown against violators".
"Sand mining on the flood plains of rivers leads to natural hazards and I ... may send a fact finding team to Noida," she said.
Environmentalist hailed the decision.
"This is a good verdict but the enforcement agencies are state governments and state police which many a times work in connivance with sand mining mafias," said Vimlendu Jha of Swecha, an NGO working for saving Yamuna.
Talking about the impact on mining, Jha told IANS: "Sand is important for recharging the ground water table and preventing low lying areas from getting flooded.
"There is no doubt sand has to be removed from river bed but it has to be done scientifically and in a planned way.
"Haphazard mining can change the course of river causing floods in one region and drought in another," Jha added.