FROM Kathua to Kupwara,Kishtwar to Kangan and Poonch to Pahalgam; riverbed mining that is taking place is completely illegal. It not only violates the Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage and Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules 2016 also known as J&K Mineral Rules 2016 but also goes against Environmental Clearance (EC) guidelines of the Government of India Ministry of Environment , Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) which are supervised in every state and UT through State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs).
Project Proponents (contractors) are violating specific conditions on which Environmental Clearance (EC) is granted to them by J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (JKSEIAA).
Selling RBM on a 50% Discount
As per specific guideline No. 5 of the minutes of meeting for Environmental Clearance given by J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority, river bed mining material (RBM) like Bajri, Boulders, Muck and Gravel is to be sold on a 50% discount to local population within 2 kms radius of mining blocks. However, this is not being done within or outside of the 2 Km radius in J&K.
Local populations living near Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga streams in Budgam district are forced to get this material at exorbitant rates. The Department of Geology and Mining is also heedless of it and is giving a deaf ear to these issues of people.This has been facilitating a mining mafia in the region.
The sand, gravel or a boulder truck load was sold at an average rate of Rs 4000 to 5000 few years back and as per EC norms, the same should have been available @ Rs 2000 to 4000 in the areas (50 % discount) where river bed mining is done such as Doodh Ganga or Shali Ganga areas of Chadoora. Instead, this material is being sold at the rates of Rs 8000 to 12,000 per truck (tipper). Additionally, the material which is to be sold locally is transported to Pulwama, Srinagar and other areas from Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga mining sites of Chadoora and Panzan areas of Budgam district.
The Project Proponents (PPs) who have been allotted mining contracts in J&K are selling river bed materials (RBM) to stone crushing units at very high rates. All this is ofcourse illegal.
Use of Technology
The specific condition No. 30 of Environmental Clearance guidelines calls upon the Geology and Mining Department to use technology like Bar Coding, Information and Communication Technology and web-based services, SMS applications to account for weight of minerals being taken out of the mining block and the number of trucks moving out with the mineral. This condition is also violated as there are no technological arrangements/communications on ground.
The Geology & Mining Department has failed to install CCTVs around Mining areas. Local residents based around Doodh Gangs and Shali Ganga rivers told Kashmir Observer that in a mining block, where 20 trucks of RBM are to be lifted in a day, the Geology & Mining Department officials allow lifting of more than 200 trucks.
The lack of CCTV based surveillance and the bypassing of technological checks are done to give a leeway for dubious dealings. This is done to ensure there is no transparency at all.
Mining Prohibited in Night Hours
Specific Condition No. 38 stresses upon the Project Proponents not to carry out any mining activity before 9 am and after 6pm.
On the other hand, here, illegal mining starts during night hours only. Huge JCBs are seen excavating RBM until midnight and trucks can be seen moving around the surrounding villages near river mining area for the whole night. This is a routine yet no Government authority flags and stops this loot and plunder.
The Irrigation and Fisheries Departments pass on the buck to the Geology and Mining Department, who further blame the District Administration or the Police. They further pass on the buck to other Govt organisations. This way the plunder carries on unabated.
Use of Cranes, Machines Not Allowed
Specific Condition No. 53 stresses on manual mining and giving jobs to local labourers. The said guideline says JCBs, Hydraulic excavators, L&T excavators cannot be used in river bed mining (RBM) at all. The guideline reads:
“Mining shall be done manually minimally supported by semi-mechanized methods. Heavy machinery like JCBs , Excavators , L&T hydraulic excavators etc should not be allowed. Emphasis should be given to locally available labour force to address socio economic condition of locals”
There is not even a single riverbed mining block across J&K where minerals are extracted manually by labourers. In every river and stream one can see huge hydraulic cranes and JCBs being used for this work. The excavation is done in broad daylight and the Geology and Mining Department, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) have been unable to put an end to this illegal practice.
These practices have been reported several times but have been ignored.
It has to be understood that these guidelines have actually been proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) Govt of India. The Supreme Court of India & National Green Tribunal (NGT) as well have given several orders in this regard. Infact, guideline No.71 says that mineral blocks cannot be sublet to third parties without written approval from JKEIAA but in a majority of the cases the Project Proponents have already sublet the work to 3rd parties. JKSEIAA is well aware of all this but is not acting at all.
Section 15 of the EP Act– 1986
Mining of sand without obtaining necessary consent from the State Pollution Control Board/Environment Clearance from MoEFCC/SEIAA is an offence under Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act 1986). The penalty is imprisonment which may extend to five years or fine which may extend to one lakh rupees. If contravention continues the penalty may extend to five thousand rupees per day. The section further provides for imprisonment for seven years if contravention continues beyond a year, after the date of conviction.
Section 4 and 21 of Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act 1957 -MMDR Act says that mining of sand without the necessary permit/ mining lease constitutes illegal mining under the MMDR Act. The penalty is imprisonment which may extend to five years or fine which may extend to five lakh rupees per hectare of the area. It further provides for seizure of the mined material, tools, equipment or vehicle used in the process and recovery of the price of the illegal mined material if the same has already been disposed of by the accused.
State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) is the nodal authority in the State for dealing with cases related to pollution or environment management coming under the purview of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment Protection Act 1986. In case of J&K the local PCB also called Pollution Control Committee (PCC) have given NoC’s for river bed mining but all grounds on which these NoCs are granted are violated openly. Same is the case with Environmental Clearance (EC) granted by J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (JKSEIAA).
There are dozens of requirements on which Environmental Clearance EC is granted to Project Proponents for River Bed Mining (RBM). Majority of these requirements / conditions are openly violated, some of which have been explained above. Ironically, there is nobody to check these gross violations on the ground (Mining Blocks). All the officers operate from their offices and nobody is seen on the ground. Even the use of technology to check illegal mining is bypassed deliberately which is otherwise a requirement under specific condition number 30 explained above. It seems all the Government organisations have turned hostile towards the environment. This includes J&K Pollution Control Committee, Geology and Mining, Fisheries Irrigation & Flood Control, DC offices, Police stations etc. Irony is that institutions like J&K State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) is also a mute spectator to all this which operates directly under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). It seems all the doors of justice are shut down for the citizens. Judicial intervention is the only way out but how many people have access to High Courts and Tribunals?