Sand is once again in the spotlight in Tamil Nadu. Alleging grave hazard to the environment and non-adherence to norms, several parties have now approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) challenging  Environment Clearances (EC) given last year for sand quarries in the Cauvery-Coleroon basin.

The river basin, one of the most fertile areas in the State, had been plagued by illegal sand mining and over-exploitation in even legal quarries. Taking note of these violations, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court last year ordered the closure of about 22 such quarries. The government was asked to seek fresh permission for quarrying from the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).

According to about 25 petitioners before the NGT, based on the applications of the Public Works Department (PWD) following the high court order, the SEIAA issued EC to quarries in November last year.

As per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006, EC is mandatory from the SEIAA for ‘B’ category (mining areas between 5 and 50 hectares) projects. However, there is a further categorization of such  projects into B1 and B2, where those falling under B2 do not need an EIA.

The petition claimed that the categorization of projects into B1 and B2 should be based on guidelines issued by the MoEF. But, in the some present cases, the SEIAA had arbitrarily subdivided the ‘B’ category projects without such guidelines and have issued the clearances. Also, the arbitrary categorization meant that no public hearing was carried out and the views of the people, who would be adversely affected by the mining, wasn’t taken into account.

By passing laws that mandate preparation of mining plans by qualified persons under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the plans have been devised by PWD officials themselves.

Therefore, the batch of applications wanted the tribunal to strike down the ECs awarded for the quarries in order to protect the environment.

Courtesy: The Indian Express