Sand mining: State law can’t prevail over central law, says NGT

A file picture of sand mining at Godavari Bhadrachalam, Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: G. N. Rao.

A file picture of sand mining at Godavari Bhadrachalam, Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: G. N. Rao.

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday said state law can’t prevail over central rules on sand mining as it dismissed Madhya Pradesh government’s plea that its district level environmental committees be treated as competent authority for grant of clearance for such activity.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar refused to modify its August 5 order banning illegal sand mining across the country, as sought by the state government.

The bench said that according to central law, environmental clearance (EC) can be granted only by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).

In its August 5 order, the tribunal had held that removal of sand without having requisite clearance from either MoEF or SEIAA, as per the area of the mining site, shall be illegal.

“The environmental clearance (EC) under the central law can only be granted by the MoEF or SEIAA, depending upon the category of the project that comes up for consideration of these authorities.

“The State is vested with no power to change the system with regard to the grant of EC under law.... The environmental clearance has to be granted by the authority specified under the central law,” the tribunal said in its order on Thursday.

The bench, also comprising its judicial member Justice U D Salvi, further held that the State cannot enact a law which would be in conflict with law laid down by the Centre.

“... In no way can the State enact a law which would be in conflict with or would change the very course of the law laid down by the Centre,” it said, adding that the “State would not be competent to alter or completely give a go-by to the said statutory procedure and methodology and assume to itself any authority, appointed by it, to grant EC.”

It was the contention of Madhya Pradesh that its district level environmental committees, set up by amending its Minor Mineral Rules, are competent to give EC for carrying on sand mining in areas less than five hectares in size.

According to central law, sand mining on land measuring five hectares or more requires EC from MoEF, while clearance for areas less than that is given by SEIAA.

Madhya Pradesh had set up district level environmental committees, by amending its Minor Mineral Rules, to grant EC for sand mining on land which is smaller than five hectares, saying that waiting for EC from MoEF or SEIAA is causing “serious stagnation” in granting mining licence and is thus affecting the economy of the state as well as hampering the developmental projects there.

The tribunal rejected the contention saying, “The argument advanced by the state is self-destructive. Stringent regulation of mining of minerals is required. Due care, caution and prevention should be taken to ensure that no degradation of environment takes place.

“The objection that there being stagnation as well as delay in grant of EC is a mere administrative issue.

Inconvenience is normally never a ground for changing the interpretation of law or reading words into a statute.

“The administrative difficulty can be resolved by MoEF in consultation with the State by creating larger number of SEIAAs at state level to ensure that applications for environmental clearance for mining of minerals are dealt with expeditiously,” the NGT said.

Referring to the contentions of the state government in its application, the tribunal also noted that “There have been a large number of cases of illegal mining in the state and huge amounts have to be recovered on account of penalty, charges etc. This itself shows that by the grant of mining leases/licences under its regulations, there has been huge illegal mining with great revenue loss to the state.”

The state in its application had stated, “Madhya Pradesh had detected a total of 3,147 cases of illegal extractions during 2008-2013 and about 27,732 illegal vehicles carrying material extracted through illegal mining have been confiscated during the said period. An amount of Rs 3,867.67 lakh has been collected by the state government as fine and penalty for illegal sand mining activities.”

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 9:39:20 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment//article60055460.ece