The Environment and Forests Ministry has constituted a committee to assess illegal mining in Uttar Pradesh and the panel will submit a report by August 9.

The Ministry decided to send a team to the State after United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking stronger action to defend officers such as Durga Shakti Nagpal. The 2009 batch IAS officer was leading a campaign against illegal sand mining mafia in her district when the State government suspended her for allegedly ordering the demolition of a mosque wall.

The three-member committee comprises a director in the Ministry, and another posted in the regional office of the Ministry in Lucknow besides a deputy director of mines at the Dehradun office of the Indian Bureau of Mines.

The Ministry said the handling of prior environment clearance for cases of mining of minor minerals, including sand, of a lease area up to 5 hectares was delegated to the State authorities after a Supreme Court order of February 2013. It noted that cases of mining between 5 and 50 hectares were handled at the State-level and only those above 50 hectares come to the Centre for clearance under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The Ministry’s notification pointed out that no mining of sand can be undertaken without prior environmental clearance, either from the State or the Centre.

Though clearances are given either by the Ministry in New Delhi or the State environment impact assessment authorities, the supervision of such mines for environmental impacts falls under the purview of the regional office of the Ministry and the State pollution control boards.

The regional offices are answerable directly to the Ministry, while the pollution control boards report to State governments.

The committee was being set up “with a view to enquiring into the allegations of illegal sand mining widely reported in the electronic as well as the print media with visuals of heavy machinery being used in illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, in order to ascertain the factual position and with a view to suggesting further court of action in the matter.”