Ministry of Environment and Forests guidelines stipulate that mining in quarries with lease area of 5-25 hectares should be done only manually

Sand mining from rivers in the State could be curtailed in the wake of recent guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests stipulating that mining in quarries with lease area of five to 25 hectares should be done only manually.

The stipulation forms part of the guidelines issued by the Ministry on December 24, 2013, for grant of environmental clearance and categorisation of Category B mining projects into B1 and B2. While projects under B1 category (with sand mining area of 25 hectares and above) will require an Environment Impact Assessment report after a public consultation process, B2 category projects will be appraised based on a pre-feasibility report and other documents.

Almost all sand quarries that are functioning now in Tamil Nadu with environmental clearance from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), including those on the Cauvery and Coleroon rivers in Tiruchi region, fall under the B2 category as they have mine lease areas between five and 25 hectares.

The detailed guidelines, available in the Ministry website, lay down various other stipulations for mining activity in these mines and says that no river sand mining project with lease area of less than five hectares will be considered for granting environmental clearance.

However, there is lack of clarity on whether the guidelines are applicable to existing quarries too. Environmental activists say that they are enforceable straightway.

“A large number of machines are used in quarries in Tiruchi and Karur district in violation of the law and court orders. The latest guidelines, which are based on the recommendations of an expert committee headed by the director of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, are applicable to existing quarries too and the State government should enforce them,” said R. Nandakumar, an advocate from Kulithalai, who has been campaigning against rampant sand mining over the past couple of decades.

However, officials of the Public Works Department are inclined to believe that the guidelines could apply only for future projects. “The environmental clearance for the existing quarries was obtained from the SEIAA before the guidelines were issued. As per court directive, two machines are being used in each quarry now. The guidelines will be applicable only for new quarries,” said an officer of the department, while conceding that the matter could be open to legal interpretation.

Sources at the SEIAA too indicated that there was lack of clarity on whether the guidelines could be applied to existing quarries with retrospective effect. A clarification has been sought from the Ministry in this regard, the sources said.