Experts and environment activists have expressed reservations about the new guidelines issued by the Central government on regulation of river sand mining, terming them impractical in saving the rivers in Kerala that have already been ravaged by mining. They feel that the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act 2001 would be more appropriate for the protection of the rivers. The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) has called for special provisions to ensure that the State legislation prevails over the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
The guidelines make it mandatory to secure environmental clearance for sand mining below five hectares from a district-level authority. It prescribes the identification of river sand resources for scientific mining, measures for protection of the riverine ecology and steps to check illegal mining. The Ministry has proposed a robust technology-assisted monitoring system for sand mining. “Kerala has experienced the adverse impact of unscientific sand mining much before other States, because rivers here are small and sand resources limited,” says D. Padmalal, Scientist, the National Centre for Earth Sciences (NCESS). “The State Act of 2001 has proved to be effective in curbing illegal sand mining”.
In June this year, the State Government had imposed a total ban on sand mining from six rivers and imposed restrictions on mining from five rivers for the next three years. The decision was based on the sand audit report of 11 rivers in the State prepared by various agencies.
According to N.K. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary, Pampa Parirakshana Samithy, none of the rivers in Kerala today qualified for sustainable sand mining. “Reckless mining activities in the past have impacted the hydrology and played havoc with the riverine ecology, to the extent that any more extraction of sand will affect the very survival of the rivers,” he said. Mr. Nair feels that the sand audit, mostly carried out by colleges and universities, did not reflect the extent of damage.
Environmentalists fear that the move by the Central government to amend the EIA Act of 2006 would undo the regulations in place and further devastate the rivers.