The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) has justified the removal of sand from the Pampa river before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), claiming that the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction over the decisions taken under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
A report has been filed before the Southern Bench of the tribunal that took suo motu notice of a report ‘Forest dept. told to permit sand removal from Pampa’ published in The Hindu on May 30.
The State respondents were told to file their independent responses as well regarding the circumstances under which the National Disaster Management Act was invoked for the purpose of desilting. They were asked to explain the circumstances that led them to take such an immediate action without following the necessary procedures.
The member-secretary of the KSDMA said in his report that only the Supreme Court or the Kerala High Court can entertain any suit or proceedings in respect to the orders issued by the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), Pathanamthitta.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had issued a notification on March 3 this year stating that dredging and desilting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river, and canals for the purpose of its maintenance, upkeep, and disaster management did not require any prior environmental clearance, it said.
The sand removal had snowballed into a controversy after the State Forest Department revoked an order issued by the District Collector, Pathanamthitta, permitting Kerala Clays and Ceramic Products, a public sector entity based in Kannur headed by a functionary of the CPI(M), to transport costly river sand from Triveni at Pampa.
The Opposition had accused the government of having used flood preparedness as a cover to bypass the Forest Conservation Act to accord financial advantage to the public sector entity.
The KSDMA has now recommended the Forest Department to prepare a disaster management plan explaining the measures and funds for maintaining the depth and width of river channels within forest areas every year.
It should ascertain the usable sand content in the deposited debris and utilise it for construction works connected to the Rebuild Kerala Initiative and major government projects, according to the report.