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Punjab’s new mining policy

Context:

The Punjab government had recently come up with the new sand and gravel mining policy 2021, which states that landowners can dispose of ordinary earth extracted or removed during the leveling of their Agricultural fields up to 3-feet.

Several farmers were already into illegal sand mining in their fields and this new policy now allows all farmers to extract up to 3 -feet earth from their fields without any environment clearance certificate.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology, GS-III: Industry and Infrastructure

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Constitution and Legislations on Rules regarding mining
  2. What is Sand mining?
  3. Concerns regarding sand mining
  4. Guidelines by the Government of India

The Constitution and Legislations on Rules regarding mining

  • The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 has empowered state governments to make rules to prevent illegal mining, transportation and storage of minerals.
  • However, there was a large number of illegal mining cases in the country and in some cases, many of the officers lost their lives while executing their duties to curb illegal mining.
  • Illegal and uncontrolled illegal mining also leads to loss of revenue to the State and degradation of the environment.
  • The entry at serial No. 23 of List II (State List) to the Constitution of India mandates the state government to own the minerals located within their boundaries.
  • The entry at serial No. 54 of List I (Central List) mandates the central government to own the minerals within the exclusive economic zone of India (EEZ). In pursuance to this Mines & Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act of 1957 was framed.
  • Also, the Central Government notifies certain minerals as ‘minor’ minerals from time to time for which the absolute powers for deciding on procedures of seeking applications for and granting mineral concessions, fixing rates of royalty, dead rent, and power to revise orders rest only with the State Government. Example of minor minerals include building stones, gravel, ordinary clay, ordinary sand.

What is Sand mining?

  • Sand mining is the process of extracting sand through an open pit but sometimes mined from inland dunes from oceans, riverbeds and beaches.
  • It is defined under section 3(e) of the mines and mineral development and regulation act,1957.
  • The extracted sand can be used for various types of manufacturing, such as concrete used in the construction of buildings and other structures.
  • The use of sand for cement-making in industrial projects has generated significant demand in India.
  • The sand can also be used as an abrasive or can be mixed with salt and applied to icy roads to reduce the melting point of ice.

Concerns regarding sand mining

  • Sand mining damages the ecosystem of rivers and the safety of bridges, weakens riverbeds, destroys natural habitats of organisms living on riverbeds, affects fish breeding and migration, and increases saline water in the rivers
  • Lack of enforcement for sand-mining regulations and insufficient subsidy programs for affected communities detrimentally impact coastal welfare. The sand mafia, a network of criminal syndicates that illegally mine sand, has proven especially destructive, with attempts to curtail their behaviour often leading to violent altercations.
  • Beaches, dunes, and sandbanks act as barriers to flooding. When sand mining removes such barriers, areas near the sea or river become more prone to flooding.
  • Sand mining destroys the aesthetic beauty of beaches and river banks, and also makes the ecological system in these areas unstable. If such beaches and riverside areas are popular tourist destinations, then the tourism potential of such areas will be lost.
  • A recent study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) shows mining is responsible for a 90 per cent drop in sediment levels in major Asian rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Mekong and Yangtze. This has resulted in the shrinking of the delta regions of these rivers, leaving local people extremely vulnerable to floods, land loss, contaminated drinking water and crop damage.

Guidelines by the Government of India

  • To address the issue of unregulated extraction of sand, the Union ministry of mines prepared a uniform set of framework that can be followed by the states as per their suitability and applicability. The framework document charts out suggestions for various elements of the process chains, starting from the objectives of the states, demand-supply situation, operations, monitoring, transportation and sales of sand, etc.
  • The Union environment ministry released some guidelines in 2016 that laid emphasis on monitoring of the mined-out material. It recommended alternative sources of extraction of sand and gravel. Yet, several cases against illegal sand mining are pending with the National Green Tribunal (NGT). 
  • The current system has not been fruitful and powerful in helping the circumstances. The current mechanism needs to be revised for effective monitoring of sand and rock mining.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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