No bar on using machinery to excavate river sand in Tamil Nadu, NGT’s southern zone bench told

In a counter affidavit filed before the National Green Tribunal’s southern zone bench on Monday, the Member Secretary of the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority - Tamil Nadu, said a decision on using machinery for river sand quarrying, was taken on a case-by-case basis

May 17, 2023 03:35 pm | Updated 03:35 pm IST - CHENNAI

Sand lorries lined up at a sand quarry at Kilikoodu on the Kollidam river in Tiruchi. File

Sand lorries lined up at a sand quarry at Kilikoodu on the Kollidam river in Tiruchi. File | Photo Credit: Moorthy M

The State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority - Tamil Nadu (SEIAA-TN) has told the National Green Tribunal’s southern zone bench that there is no bar on using heavy machinery to quarry river sand even from ‘B2’ category sites measuring less than 25 hectares.

The submission has been made in a counter affidavit filed before judicial member Pushpa Sathyanarayana and expert member Satyagopal Korlapati on Monday, in response to an appeal filed against the environmental clearance granted for the quarrying of sand from River Vaipparu.

After taking the counter affidavit filed by SEIAA-TN Member Secretary Deepak S. Bilgi on file, the bench has directed the SEIAA counsel to submit, by July 5, the entire file relating to the environment clearance granted to the Public Works Department (PWD) on August 25, 2022.

The SEIAA had filed the counter in reply to a query raised by the tribunal, which wondered how machinery could be used in a ‘B2’ category site when guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on December 24, 2013 insisted only on manual quarrying at such sites.

Explaining the issue in detail, Mr. Bilgi said, river sand quarries in the State were being operated by private individuals till 2003 when the State government, acting on the basis of the report of an expert committee, constituted on the directions of the Madras High Court, decided to quarry on its own. “Since then sand quarry operations are being carried in a skillful and scientific manner under the supervision of the PWD,” the Member Secretary said. He added that a government order (G.O.) was issued on April 19, 2004 authorising the Industries Secretary to permit the use of machinery.

Further, ever since the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification was issued by the Centre in 2006, the State government began taking permission from the SEIAA for quarrying river sand. In 2010, the Madras High Court imposed a blanket ban on the use of heavy machinery to quarry river sand. However, in 2011, the High Court modified the ban and permitted use of two pieces of machinery at every quarry site, with a rider that they must be used only between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Though in 2013 the Centre banned the use of machineries in ‘B2’ category sites, the guidelines were changed subsequently, the SEIAA claimed. It pointed out that the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2016 and 2018 had categorised river sand quarry sites as A, B1 and B2 solely on the basis of the extent of the sites and there was no mention with respect to ban on the use of machinery.

The MoEF had taken note that manual mining was done in some of the sand quarry sites in Tamil Nadu and semi-mechanised or mechanised quarrying was carried out at the other sites. It also observed that the method of mining could be decided depending upon the location and thickness of the sand deposition.

“Hence, the MoEFCC has taken note of the common practices followed in various States in the case of sand mining and subsequently has acknowledged the use of poclains (sand excavators) in the State of Tamil Nadu,” the SEIAA Member Secretary’s counter affidavit read.

It went on to state: “The Government of Tamil Nadu on June 2, 2017 has directed the PWD to move the SEIAA on a case-to-case basis to seek permission for engaging more number of poclains for usage of sand quarries. Subsequently, the State Expert Appraisal Committee in its 90th meeting held on June 6, 2017 suggested to fix the number of poclains based on the quantity of the sand to be mined out as per the mining plan.”

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