Tamil Nadu

HC confirms order to close down all sand quarries

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Hits out at government for having failed to protect riverbeds; rules that regulating import of sand doesn’t fall under the State’s ambit

In a hard-hitting judgment, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court on Friday held the State government squarely responsible for having failed in its duty to protect riverbeds from indiscriminate sand mining and confirmed a single judge’s November 29 order directing the State government to impose a blanket ban on sand mining within six months.

Justices K. Kalyanasundaram and T. Krishnavalli said: “If ecology is not protected, there is no doubt that it will endanger the very existence of human life and we might not even have a future generation. Therefore, as a custodian of fundamental as well as constitutional rights, it is the duty of this court to ensure that the environment is protected.”

The Bench also confirmed other directions issued by Justice R. Mahadevan, who had directed the State government to permit the sale of imported river sand either by way of executive instructions or by enacting a law.

Further, to ensure that local sand dealers do not continue to exploit the rivers by misusing the permission granted to them to sell imported sand, the judge had ordered strict vigilance by establishing permanent check posts and equipping them with closed circuit television cameras, besides subjecting the guilty to severe punishment.

Concurring with this, the Division Bench said policy decisions on export and import were within the domain of the Centre, which had already permitted import of river sand, and therefore, the State government could not have any objection. Besides, Sections 15 and 23C of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957 empower the State governments to frame statutory rules for preventing illegal mining, transportation and storage of only domestic and not imported river sand.

Appeal by State

The judgment was delivered on a writ appeal preferred on behalf of the State Government challenging the single judge’s order. The government contended that the judge had traversed beyond the scope of the writ petition by ordering a ban on sand mining.

Rejecting this, the Bench said, “The court (single judge) was able to see that the actions of the State were not only [not] in accordance with law but also not in the interest or welfare of the State and rather are in the nature of suiting individual commercial interests [of local sand dealers]. More particularly, when alternate source is available, the court felt it could be used to preserve the ecology of the State.”

Authoring the judgment, Mr. Justice Kalyanasundaram pointed out that the State has a long history of illegal mining and the government was unsuccessful in curbing it. Rejecting the government’s contention that imported sand with 81.6% silica content may not be fit for civil constructions, the Bench agreed with senior counsel M. Vallinayagam and Isaac Mohanlal, representing the importer and the subsequent purchaser, that only sand with above 95% of silica content could not be used for construction.

The judges also noted the fact that Karnataka had imported river sand from Malaysia and that many sky scrapers in Malaysia had been built only with its river sand. Experts in Malaysia and India had certified the quality of the sand that had been imported by the petitioner firm. The single judge had directed the government to also close down, in a phased manner, quarries where minerals such as granite were mined and the Bench confirmed this direction too.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:04:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-confirms-order-to-close-down-all-sand-quarries/article22475828.ece

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