The Madras High Court Thursday directed the Tamil Nadu Government to stop all sand mining and quarrying activities in the state within six months and to not open any new sand quarries. Justice R Mahadevan in his order said that sand had been quarried beyond permitted level affecting the flow of water in rivers and impacting agriculture in the state.
Besides, ground water level had also dipped in several places due to mining of sand, he noted. The judge pointed out that Kerala had already stopped mining of sand in six rivers. The order was passed on a petition filed by M R M Ramaiya seeking a direction to the state government to permit him to sell the river sand he had imported from Malaysia and stored at the Tuticorin port.
The judge ordered that quarries of granites and other minerals, except gravel, be periodically closed to maintain ecological balance. The state government should take a decision to import river sand by the state-owned corporation in order to meet the demand in the state if there were no legal impediments, he said.
It should set up permanent check posts equipped with CCTV cameras to curb illegal mining of sand, he added. The court also directed that a committee be constituted to ascertain the loss to the state exchequer due to illegal mining and recover the same from companies, individuals or government servants found responsible for it.
Sale of imported sand should be carried out by following provisions under GST laws, the judge said, adding the government should “bring an enactment to regulate and handle such imported sand within the state”.
When the matter came up, the petitioner submitted that he had imported one lakh tonnes of sand from Malaysia and sold 96 tonnes to a customer in Marthandam in Kanyakumari district.
However, the collector of that district had seized the lorries carrying the imported sand.
Several representations made to the collector and other officials to release the impounded vehicles proved futile, the petitioner said.
As per rules, there was no bar on transporting imported sand, he contended.
The petitioner claimed he possessed all necessary documents to prove that he had imported sand from Malaysia and even paid GST for the same.
Besides, officials in Tamil Nadu have no jurisdiction to prevent the sale of the imported sand in Kerala, the petitioner argued. To this, the advocate general said the state government has the right to insist on licence for transportation and storage of the river sand.
The petitioner failed to prove that the sand imported by him was river sand and the same had to be chemically analysed to ensure it did not contain any hazardous or heavy metals in public interest, the AG said. The district collector was empowered to issue any orders for inspection and proper implementation of Tamil Nadu Prevention of Illegal Mining Transportation and Storage of Minerals Act, he added.
Though the court did not undermine the demand for sand, the judge said sand mining cannot be done endangering the existence itself. The state should keep public interest as paramount and rise to the occasion to protect and preserve the natural resources which would pave the way for a better life for the future generation, the court said.