The issue of illegal mining of minor minerals in India

M Inaobi Singh
Illegal mining of minor minerals specially river sand mining  is the biggest environmental challenge, India is facing today.  There is hardly any state in India which does not face illegal sand mining problem. Although, authorities across the country under continuous pressure from judiciaries have been trying to check the menace of illegal mining, the problem still remains far from being resolved. As a result, cases filed pertaining to illegal mining is increasing day by day all over the country. As per report given by the Hon’ble Minister of Mines, Shri Pralhad Joshi on 10th July, 2019 in the Lok Sabha, the total cases of illegal mining filed in various courts of the country during the last three years is 45,242. Lately, on 24th July 2019 the apex court has also issued notice to the Central government, CBI and five states namely Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra in connection with a plea seeking investigation  by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the illegal sand mining activities that are currently underway in these five states. The list is endless. As such, illegal mining of minor minerals including sand has now become a perennial problem for the country. The following reports submitted by former Union Minister of Mines Shri Piyush Goyal in 2017 and the present Minister of Mines Shri Pralhad Joshi on 10th July 2019 in the Lok Sabha clearly shows the grave of the issue.
As per report submitted by the Union Environment Ministry before the Rajya Sabha in January, 2018 altogether, 4.16 lakh cases of illegal mining (including sand & other materials) were recorded between 2013 and 2017 in the country. Although, no state maintained official figure of the quantity of sand mined out illegally from the quarries, 19,000 cases pertaining to illegal mining were filed in various courts across the country during the year 2015-16 said Piyush Goyal, former Minister of mines, while answering a question in the Lok Sabha in February, 2017. Further, the present Hon’ble Minister of Mines Shri Pralhad Joshi in his reply to unstarred question no. 2742 in the Lok Sabha on 10th July, 2019 put the figure of illegal mining cases during the last three years ie. 2016-17 to 2018-19 at 328,737 and that of court cases filed during the period at 45,242, number of vehicles seized at 439,332 and fine realized at Rs. 270,324.41 lakhs. This data is the combined figure of records collected from 18 different states of the country. The above report of the Union Ministers of Mines have clearly indicated the failure of both Central and State Governments to bring illegal mining activities under control despite continuous interventions from the Judiciaries. Having lost confidence on the working of the Governments both in centre and states, the Apex Court had come down heavily on several occasions of hearing in the past and at one point of time, the Apex court had even asked the Centre if they ever had a mechanism to regulate mining in the country. Some of the landmark judgements that compelled the centre and state governments to  act as responsive authorities are : 1) Supreme Court of India order passed on 27.02.2012 in the case of Deepak Kumar vs State of Haryana & others which compelled the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC)  to modify its EIA Notification of 14.09.2006. The order made prior Environment Clearance(EC) from the MoEFCC mandatory for all leases of minor minerals including their renewal even for area of less than 5 hectares, 2)   National Green Tribunal (NGT) order dated 5th August 2013 in the case of NGT Bar Association vs MoEFCC & Others which restrain all mining activities across the country without prior ECs from the MoEFCC/SEIAA and licence from the competent authority, 3) On 16th May, 2017 NGT banned sand mining activities using machineries in Gonda and Faizabad Districts of Uttar Pradesh, 4) NGT’s order dated 30th May, 2017 in the case of NGT Bar Association vs Dr Sarvabhoum Bagali which banned in stream suction mining of sand under any circumstances without prior approval of the Tribunal, 5) The Supreme Court of India on 16th November, 2017 put a blanket ban on riverbed mining of sand & stone at all the 82 large lease holders of Rajasthan on the ground of absence of scientific replenishment study, 6) On 30th November, 2017 The Madurai Bench of Chennai High Court directed the State Government to stop all sand mining activities in the state within six months. It further ruled that no new quarries and mines should be opened in future, 7) The Uttarkhand High Court on 28th March, 2017 put a four month ban on mining in the state during which no fresh lease or prospecting licence for mining can be issued.
It is clear from the above that despite consistent efforts from the Judiciaries at different levels, both centre and state governments have miserably failed to bring illegal mining activities under their control. This has not only put the delicate eco-system of the country’s rivers and their biota in jeopardy but also caused loss of huge revenue to the state exchequers while allowing the sand mafias to loot public money in broad day light. Unlike other states, the issue of illegal mining of minor minerals including sand in Manipur is quite different. While the cases of illegal mining of minor minerals in other states of India is of flouting the guidelines and rules at the time of actual operation of mining on the ground after taking quarrying lease or licence from the competent authority, the mining activities in Manipur are  carried out without any lease or licence from the competent authority. In other words, the state government has not implemented “The Manipur Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 2012” which was framed under the central act “The Minor Mineral (Development & Regulation) MMDR, Act” 1957 even after the lapse of 6 years of its enactment. We, appeal the State Government to take up all necessary actions to regulate all mining activities in the state so that the present standoff between the miners and environment conscious people can be resolved at the earliest. Lastly, use of natural resources in a scientific and sustainable manner is the need of the hour.    
The writer is the Chairman of Safe Environment Campaign Committee (SECC)