Environmentalists have welcomed the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order staying sand mining on river beds without environmental clearance. However, the construction sector is apprehensive about its fallout.

A.V. George, environmental scientist and Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, said the order was essential for Kerala which earned the sobriquet ‘God’s Own Country’ because of its 44 rivers. “It is high time to popularise the use of rock sand like in foreign countries. I had submitted a report some time back identifying at least five sites of rocky barren terrain stretching to four to five km in the high ranges. Digging bowls in such areas will not only meet the long term demand for sand but will serve as water receptacles addressing water shortage as well,” Mr. George told The Hindu. He said the construction sector’s concern about the ban was baseless as “mining all rivers will not meet even half the demand for sand anyway”.

N.K. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary, Pampa Parirakshana Samithi, said the NGT had upheld the recommendations of a 22-member expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in March 2010.

The proposals were endorsed by the Supreme Court in February 2012. The expert committee had said mining on any scale in any part of a river affected the ecosystem of the river as a whole. The committee had also called for a detailed mining and damage rectification plan. The biodiversity loss caused by mindless mining and consideration of the hydraulic regime prompted the committee to restrict sand mining on river beds to a depth of three metres, Mr. Nair said. “Rather than implementing this guideline endorsed by the Supreme Court, the State government has now approached the court seeking an exemption. We are apprehensive that a familiar fate of non-implementation will befall the NGT order,” he said. A senior geologist said though the order was welcome, it would be difficult to verify if mining carried out in compliance with the terms of the environmental clearance. “The mining and geology department lacks adequate men and materials to undertake that kind of inspection,” he said.

John Thomas, president, Kochi chapter of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), said the order would affect the construction industry. However, the impact would be less owing to the increase in use of rock sand. Sunilkumar V., managing director of Asset Homes, said the stay dealt a huge blow to the construction sector which was facing severe shortage of sand. C.R. Neelakantan, environmentalist, said the decision to make environmental clearance mandatory for river bed sand mining provided legal backing for greens.

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