The Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday reluctantly admitted before the National Green Tribunal that illegal sand mining was going on in the state and not even a single environmental clearance had been granted for it in Gautam Budh Nagar district.
"We (UP government) have not caught anyone till now. It's there Lordship. Yes it (illegal sand mining) is going on," said the counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh government and its chief secretary.
A five-member bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, directed the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police of Gautam Budh Nagar to personally appear before it on August 29 to show cause why appropriate action should not be taken against them for not checking illegal sand mining.
"From the documents before us, it is evidently clear that indiscriminate sand mining is going on in Gautam Budh Nagar in Noida. We would have expected the deputy commissioner and the SP to comply with the Tribunal's August 5 order and the Supreme
Court's earlier order but both have miserably failed. Let them personally appear before us on the next date of hearing i.e. August 29," the bench said.
After an hour-long hearing, the bench also granted liberty to any advocate of the tribunal or any public person to bring out the names of people carrying out illegal mining.
At the beginning, the counsel had denied the allegations of illegal mining, saying, "There is no illegal sand mining in the state after the tribunal's August 5 order".
Miffed at the counsel persistently denying the allegations, the bench cited recent media reports and wanted to know from the woman advocate whether those reports were incorrect or irresponsible.
At this point, the counsel made a statement -- that there is illegal sand mining going on in the state without any clearance.
Meanwhile, the tribunal also banned beach sand mineral mining in Tamil Nadu and Kerala after senior advocate Raj Panjwani, appearing for the NGT Bar Association which had filed the petition, apprised it about unauthorised mining on the beaches of the two states.
The tribunal also directed the chief secretaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to file personal affidavits on August 29 on the averments.
The bench had earlier issued notices to all the states seeking their replies on a petition, contending that rampant illegal mining and transportation of lakhs of tonnes of sand are being carried out every year, causing loss of lakhs of crores of rupees to the state exchequer.
Barring Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, no other state appeared before the Tribunal today due to non-service of the notices.
Counsel for these three states, the Central Pollution Control Board and Ministry of Environment and Forests sought time to file their replies.
The bench granted them two week’s time to file replies and asked resident commissioners of the other states in Delhi to ensure service of notice to the respective chief secretaries.
Counsel for Haryana government told the tribunal that sand mining is going on in Panipat and Sonipat as per EC granted to them and illegal mining is being carried out in the state.
Madhya Pradesh government's counsel also said that in the past five years, 3000 cases have been registered regarding illegal sand mining.
The petition alleged that those who have opposed such sand mining, including field level officers like suspended SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal, have been victimised which is also apparent from various news reports.
"Uttar Pradesh state authorities have failed and/or have intentionally not taken appropriate legal action against the project proponents (those carrying out mining) and thus have abetted and willfully connived in allowing such illegal sand mining to take place in complete violation of environmental and other applicable laws," the petition alleged.
During the day's hearing, the bench asked the Uttar Pradesh counsel's stand on news reports that there is rampant sand mining going on in Gautam Budh Nagar and 18 people have been caught.
"What happened to those 18 persons, we want to know it first. We are not saying the media reports are gospel truth but something must be there. Rampant sand mining is going on," it said.
The bench sought to know if the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority had granted permission for mining in Uttar Pradesh after the apex court's February 2012 order on sand mining.
The counsel replied they have not arrested anyone and 192 environmental clearances have been given till August 5, as per the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, but no EC was granted in Gautam Budh Nagar.
The bench also directed the counsel to ask SEIAA's deputy director, who was present during the hearing, whether news reports regarding sand mining in Uttar Pradesh were incorrect.
"No EC had been granted in entire Gautam Budh Nagar. What action has been taken? Did you catch a single person in the area? Are you also a party to it," it asked.
Advocate Panjwani, assisted by advocate Ritwick Dutta, submitted that despite the apex court's 2012 order, the states have failed to check illegal mining.
In a February 2012 order, the apex court had taken note of adverse effects of sand mining and held that any person carrying on sand mining on land under five hectares would need clearance from the ministry of environment and forests or SEIAA.
The NGT directed all the states to file their affidavits as to what steps they have taken or if they have framed any rules in pursuance of the SC order.
"Besides the above, every state will submit as to how many persons have been granted permission for carrying out sand mining. What is the role played by the pollution control board of the state in this regard," it said, also asking them to mention the number of cases of illegal mining registered by them and action taken against the offenders.
"All the states and MoEF will inform on the next date which experts can be included in the committee to be formed to look into the issues of illegal sand mining," it said.
"Bring before us the names of major operators of mining which is being carried out in Gautam Budh Nagar," the tribunal said and asked the UP counsel to give details till August 16.
Earlier, the tribunal had restrained sand mining without any licence or environmental clearance from river beds across the country on the plea, alleging such activities were going on in UP with the "willful connivance" of its state machinery.
The bench had said its order would be applicable across the nation as the petition raises substantial environmental issues.
The petition has alleged that recently a man who had raised his voice against the "powerful sand mafia" had been killed in his home by a few goons in broad daylight.
In its petition, the association contended that "rampant illegal sand mining in the river beds of Yamuna, Ganga, Hindon, among others, without prior environmental clearance or in violation of the EC is being carried out and the same is affecting the integrity of the concerned river systems and flood plains".