Illegal sand mining doesn't come under pollution control board purview, says report submitted in HC

The Madras High Court on November 12 last year added the TNPCB as a party, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) as a respondent to the case pertaining to illegal beach sand mining.

Published: 19th May 2022 11:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2022 11:12 AM   |  A+A-

Madras High Court (File photo)

Madras High Court (File photo)

Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI: In an independent report submitted to the Madras High Court, the Additional Chief Environmental Engineer of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has distanced himself from the illegal beach sand mining case stating that mining is not covered under the TNPCB purview as it involved no effluent discharge.

The Madras High Court on November 12 last year added the TNPCB as a party, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) as a respondent to the case pertaining to illegal beach sand mining that took place in three southern districts until 2016. The court also directed the TNPCB to submit an independent report on the action taken against illegal mining.

In the independent report recently submitted, TNPCB Additional Chief Environmental Engineer R Vijayabaskaran said the board enforces only the Water (Prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981. However, the mining of beach sand comes under the category of Mining Major Minerals. TNPCB issues Consent to Establish (CTE) and Consent to Operate (CTO) as per the amended provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. No sewage, trade effluent or process emission is involved in beach sand mining activities, the report said.

"TNPCB has a role in renewing the CTE and CTO granted for mining projects as approved by the Department of Mining and Geology, and the environment clearance granted by the MoEF and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). As allegations in the case are related to illegal mining, the case would not come under the purview of the TNPCB," the report added.

It may be noted that the Tamil Nadu government has granted 77 lease licenses since 1990 to extract heavy minerals including monazite , garnet, ilmenite, rutile, zircon, sillimanite and leucoxene. Of the 77 mining licenses, 61 were for extraction within the most eco-sensitive areas in the Gulf of Mannar marine biosphere, three fell within Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) areas, and the remaining for extraction along the river stretches in Tiruchy.
 
As per the RTI replies given by the Public Information Officers/Assistant Directors of the Geology and Mining department in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Madurai and Tiruchy districts, which is in the possession of the TNIE, except for the four garnet lease licenses in Kanyakumari's Agastheeswaram and Midalam, 72 other lesses holders had not submitted the necessary Consent to Establish and Operate to Geology and Mining department. Also, none of the 76 license holders had obtained Specific Environment Clearance from the concerned MoEF, the RTI reply reveals.

According to Federation of Indian Placer Mineral Industries President Dr D Dhaya Devadas, the beach sand mineral processing units in southern districts have been functioning without Prior Site-Specific Consent to Establish and Operate necessitated under the Water Act, 1974, and Air Act, 1981, even as the mineral separation process includes chemicals. "No mineral manufacturing factory should be operated without the Prior Site-Specific Environment Clearance from MoEF, if it covers one lakh tonnes of throughput minerals per year as per the para 2(b) of the EIA notification issued in 1994," he told TNIE while adding that most of the losses produced 3 lakh tonnes to 30 lakh tonnes.

"The beach sand miners who possess over 77 mining lease licenses have not obtained the required Prior Site-Specific Environment Clearance from the MoEF or the Prior Site-Specific Consent to Establish and Operate from the TNPCB. District environment engineers, who were part of various committees constituted by the government to monitor beach sand mining, have not considered the coastal villagers' complaints about groundwater contamination caused by the mineral processing units. Unlawful drawal of seawater through the construction of channels, and indiscriminate extraction of groundwater through large bore wells have led to seawater intrusion and consequent contamination of groundwater aquifers. Several palmyra trees withered due to the groundwater pollution," Devadas charged.

The officials were blind to the pollution and violations of stipulated norms which had caused irreparable ecological damages. Only an unbiased investigation could bring out the truth, he said.



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