Illegal Mining, Impatient Mafi a and Ill-treated Administrators

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As the construction sector grows, illegal sand
and granite mining can only be expected to increase. From what can be
seen until now, honest offi cers who have taken action against the sand
mafi a in their respective districts in different states have either
been transferred or suspended. The politician-sand mafi a nexus must be
broken in order to protect the environment and prevent huge revenue
loss.


In popular cinema, the hooligans are always defeated by the end of
the film and the heroes win thus demonstrating that truth will triumph.
But the recent action against upright administrators who cracked down on
illegal sand mining calls for a different look at the
mafia-administrators tangle. Durga Shakti Nagpal, a young Indian
Administrative Service (IAS) officer, was suspended for her stringent
action against the sand mafia smuggling sand from the banks of the
Yamuna River in Gautam Buddh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh (UP). She
had registered 40 cases and seized more than 300 sand-laden tippers for
illegal sand mining within six months of her posting. This irked the
local sand mafia-political class. The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP)
suspended her and justified the suspension.

Sand, clay and silt mining is common in the waterbodies and is
growing phenomenally due to the increasing demand in the construction
segment. The upright officials who take action against such illegal
activity are victimised. There are cases wherein officials, civil
society volunteers and common people are subjected to physical attacks
and even murdered. Fearing such attacks the officials especially the
lower ranking ones do not even register cases against illegal sand
mining.

One politician of the SP who enjoys cabinet rank in the UP government
openly said that he was responsible for getting the IAS officer
suspended in just 41 minutes. When the union government sought a report
over the suspension of the officer, another UP minister sarcastically
advised the central government to recall all IAS officers from the state
since their job could be done by the state government officials.
Subsequently, the union environment ministry appointed a three-member
committee to study the illegal sand mining and the committee in its
report noted that there is overexploitation of sand mining in the Gautam
Buddh Nagar riverbed.

Punitive Response

Similarly, another IAS officer Ashish Kumar who ordered a detailed
investigation into the coastal beach sand mining in Tuticorin district
of Tamil Nadu has been transferred allegedly at the behest of mining
dons. He had ordered a raid on V V Minerals (VVM), which is number two
globally and number one in India in exporting garnet sand. This company
has beach sand business in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari and
allegedly exploits the sand unlawfully on poramboke lands.

A preliminary survey and inspection by a team of officials from
revenue, excise, mining and police departments shows that in Vaipar and
Vempar regions in Vilathikulam taluk, 2.40 lakh metric tonnes of beach
sand, rich in garnet, and other minerals were illegally taken away by
VVM and for which a fine of Rs 10.25 lakh was imposed on it. Apparently
this company had permission to take beach sand from only four hectares
(ha) but had illegally taken sand from 40 ha of land. Besides, the
casuarina trees planted to prevent soil erosion and prevent another
tsunami-like disaster were completely removed from these 40 ha to enable
the sand mining. The survey also revealed that this company mined
private land as well without permission. The mafia politician network
did not spare the district collector, who initiated action against the
illegal granite mining in Madurai district.

In June this year an IAS officer, Ansul Mishra, who unearthed a huge
illegal granite business near Madurai district was not spared by the
politician-granite mafia network. While citizens objected to these
transfers, opposition parties shy away from doing so showing the strong
nexus between the mafia and the political class irrespective of party
affiliation. In the case of the illegal beach sand mining, Chief
Minister Jayalalithaa has constituted a committee and ordered a thorough
investigation.

Environmental and Revenue Loss

It is an open secret that illegal sand mining and quarrying are
carried on in common property resources like riverbeds, irrigation
tanks, ponds, grazing lands, coastlines and hillocks. Recent flash
floods and the disaster in the Uttarakhand region show what unmindful
human intervention in the form of mismanaging natural resources leads
to. Understandably, in many places the rule of law has been completely
violated or is in the hands of the mafia. Illegal sand mining and
quarrying not only cause environmental damage but also lead to revenue
loss for the state exchequer.

Owing to overexploitation of sand, the groundwater table goes down
drastically, the aquifers dry out and soil erosion alters the riverbed
and affects downstream habitats in river zones. The natural flood path
is affected and water flow is haphazardly diverted into many river
zones.

In and around Melur, a small town 25 km east of Madurai, many waterbodies including ponds, tanks and nallahs
have vanished due to illegal and excessive excavation of granite
stones. Five villages which had granite both in poramboke and private
patta lands have been reduced to rubble and the loss to the government
exchequer is estimated at more than Rs 40,000 crore. The then district
collector, U Sagayam, an upright IAS officer, collected details of the
illegal mining and documented the same in 2009. The granite mafia
influenced the government to get him transferred. The next collector,
Ansul Mishra, also took serious measures to bring the culprits to book.
Due to his initiative nearly 230 persons including some officials were
arrested. It is alleged that this collector too was transferred due to
the mafia’s intervention. The subordinate officials are afraid to
proceed further.

Sand mining without permission even on one’s own farm is an offence.
On the complaint of the village administrative officer, two farmers were
arrested and put behind bars in Nadur village of Orathandu taluk in the
Cauvery Mettur Project region for levelling their farm fields for
cultivation purpose in 2012. It shows that while the less educated
farmers who have no clout with the political class are subjected to
legal proceedings, the organised sand mafia gets off scot- free and the
sincere officials are shown the door. It is hard to believe that
officials who dare to check, prevent and seize illegally mined sand have
been cruelly killed.

On 6 August the Tuticorin district collector ordered an enquiry into
the beach sand mining and commissioned collective investigation by a
group of government departments. The district collector sent a detailed
report to the government for further action. Within 24 hours she was
transferred. Now, owing to pressure, the state government has
constituted a three-member committee to study the case under the
chairmanship of the revenue secretary.

Break the Nexus

Sand mining and quarrying must be carried out in the designated
places for a specified duration only after the clearance from
departments like revenue, environment, agriculture, mining, public works
and town and country planning. Nonetheless, in most of the cases, these
are either flouted or not followed at all. The Supreme Court in
February 2013 declined to ban sand mining but asked the state
governments to regulate the extraction of sand based on the
recommendations of the Ministry of Environment made in 2010.
Conventionally, sand mining especially in riverbed has been permitted by
different agencies in various states. While the local panchayat can
decide on the permission for sand mining in Kerala, the mining
department is vested with the powers to permit sand mining in Tamil
Nadu.

There has been a growing demand for sand in the construction and
realty sector and illegal mining is expected to accelerate. Local civil
societies with the active support of officials can alone bring the sand
mafia to book. The respective state governments must take appropriate
measures to prevent illegal sand mining to protect the environment and
improve revenue collections. The political class must realise that good
governance with transparent administration can benefit the community in
the long run. The courageous officers must be recognised for their
meritorious service. Meanwhile, the union government is contemplating
curtailment of the powers of the state governments by making amendments
in the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 1969 in dealing
with IAS officers.

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