Observing that a total ban on legal sand mining causes huge loss to the public exchequer, the Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Bihar government to carry on mining activities through the Bihar State Mining Corporation.
The top court said a balanced approach of sustainable development ensuring environmental safeguards needs to be resorted to while dealing with the issue of sand mining.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao also directed that exercise of preparation of district survey report for the purpose of mining in Bihar in all the districts shall be undertaken afresh.
"It cannot be in dispute that though the developmental activities are not stalled, the environmental issues are also required to be addressed. A balanced approach of sustainable development ensuring environmental safeguards, needs to be resorted to.
"At the same time, it also cannot be ignored that when legal mining is banned, it gives rise to mushroom growth of illegal mining, resulting into clashes between sand mafias, criminalisation and at times, loss of human lives," the bench also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and B R Gavai said.
The apex court also said that it cannot be disputed that sand is required for construction of public infrastructural projects as well as public and private construction activities.
A total ban on legal mining, apart from giving rise to illegal mining, also causes huge loss to the public exchequer, the bench said.
The order came on an appeal filed by the Bihar government against an order of the National Green Tribunal which directed the State to undertake further exercise for preparation of a fresh district survey report for Banka.
The NGT in its October 14, 2020 order had also said that the survey report must be prepared through consultants accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Education and Training/ Quality Control Council of India.
The NGT order had come on a plea filed by Bihar resident Pawan Kumar and other seeking proper sand mining in accordance with law and the regulatory framework including various decisions of the tribunal.
The apex court said the draft survey reports shall be prepared by the sub divisional committees consisting of the sub divisional magistrate, officers from Irrigation Department, State Pollution Control Board or Committee, Forest Department, geological or mining officer.
"The same shall be prepared by undertaking site visits and also by using modern technology. The said draft DSRs shall be prepared within a period of 6 weeks from the date of this order. After the draft DSRs are prepared, the District Magistrate of the concerned district shall forward the same for examination and evaluation by the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC)," the bench said.
The draft DSRs shall be examined by the SEAC within a period of six weeks and its report shall be forwarded to the SEIAA within the aforesaid period of 6 weeks from the receipt of it, the apex court said.
"The SEIAA will thereafter consider the grant of approval to such DSRs within a period of 6 weeks from the receipt thereon," it said.
The top court said that while preparing survey reports and the appraisal thereof by SEAC and SEIAA, it should be ensured that a strict adherence to the procedure and parameters laid down in the policy of January 2020 should be followed.
"Until further orders, we permit the state government to carry on mining activities through Bihar State Mining Corporation for which it may employ the services of the contractors. However, while doing so, the state government shall ensure that all environmental concerns are taken care of and no damage is caused to the environment," the bench said.