Pending cases on sand mining won’t affect new leases: govt.

In a significant decision, the State government has now taken a stand that a batch of cases pending in the Madras High Court since 2015 in connection with illicit beach sand mining in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, Kanniyakumari, Madurai and Tiruchi districts do not preclude the government from granting fresh mining leases.

The shift in stand could bring to end a five-year-old ban imposed by the government on beach sand mining in 2013, when it formed a team to probe allegations of large-scale illicit mining of beach sand minerals by the lessees in the five districts.

The Hindu has accessed a government letter written in this regard by K. Gnanadesikan, Additional Chief Secretary, Industries Department to H. Maleshappa, Director of Environment and Member Secretary of State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) on July 20 this year.

The letter reads: “It is informed that the cases, which are related to illegal mining of beach sand minerals in the State of Tamil Nadu from the existing mining leases and stoppage of mining operations, are still pending before the honourable High Court of Madras. They are not connected to fresh grant of mining lease by the government.”

It goes on to state that a Government Order was passed on September 22, 2017, granting mining leases to two Chennai-based private firms — S.S. Minerals and Riverways Mines and Minerals — for mining garnet, from Kottathur village in Musiri Taluk of Tiruchi district. The lease was granted based on a court order passed on March 15, 2017.

Status of river sand

The two private mining firms had approached the court in 2015, after the then Industries Secretary C.V. Shankar had refused to execute lease deeds in their favour.

One of the reasons cited for the refusal was that “all beach sand mining activities have been banned in the State of Tamil Nadu” as per G.Os issued on August 8, 2013 and September 17, 2013.

However, a single judge of the High Court had set aside the rejection order and directed the government to reconsider the plea for grant of lease.

He held that a perusal of the G.Os issued in 2013 showed that the ban on mining and transporting the minerals was only with respect to existing leases and not for grant of fresh leases.

In so far as another reason given by Mr. Shankar, that garnet was an atomic mineral and any lease for mining it could be granted only by the Centre in accordance with the new rules that came into force in 2016, the judge said he was not sure whether garnet found in river sand could be equated with the one found in beach sand. Hence, he directed the State government to obtain necessary inputs from the Centre before issuing new leases.

The government accepted the judgment without taking it on appeal and issued a G.O this year, granting mining lease to the two firms. It had also clarified its stand to the SEIAA for issuance of environmental clearance.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 12:13:06 PM |

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