SC tells Andhra Pradesh govt to immediately stop illegal sand mining

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Court asked the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to depute its officers to ascertain whether mining activities have indeed stopped

The Supreme Court has directed the Andhra Pradesh government to immediately constitute teams of officials to take action to stop the illegal mining activities in the State, as prohibited by the National Green Tribunal.

Expressing concern over widespread illegal mechanized sand mining, a bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan criticized the lack of concrete action mentioned in the state government's affidavit against such activities.

Moreover, court directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to depute its officers to the sites mentioned in the application filed by one of the respondents-Nagendra Kumar to verify whether mining activities have indeed ceased.

The order was passed in a civil appeal filed by Jaiprakash Power Ventures Limited and another against the March 23, 2023 order by the National Green Tribunal's Southern Zone, Chennai. The NGT had canceled the appellants' sand mining permits.

On April 29, the court had directed the State and all the concerned authorities to take every possible step to stop illegal sand mining and set the criminal law in motion against those who were indulging in illegal sand mining. The court had also asked the State Government to file an affidavit stating the actions taken in compliance of NGT's order. 

On May 10, the court observed that the compliance affidavit dated May 8 filed by the State, though referred to the complaint made by respondent Nagendra Kumar regarding illegal mechanized mining carried out by M/s. G.C.K.C Projects and Works Private Limited and M/s. Prathima Infrastructure Limited, it did not mention any concrete action against illegal mechanized mining.

"Our attention is invited to the various photographs which prima facie, show that the activity of mechanized mining prohibited by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has continued at various places in the State of Andhra Pradesh. The photographs show the date and time of the photographs as well as longitude and latitude of the places where illegal mining is being carried out," the bench noted.

Therefore, court issued direction to the State Government to immediately constitute teams of officials to curb illegal mining as prohibited by the NGT.

"A compliance report shall be filed by the State before this Court on 16th May, 2024," the bench ordered. 

Court also granted four weeks' additional time to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to file an affidavit in the matter.

By its order passed in March last year, the NGT had then set aside the amended EC permitting semi mechanised method for mining. NGT had held it illegal and directed that the mining operations be stopped forthwith and the project proponents to take fresh EC. It had further imposed environmental compensations on the appellants.

The appellants claimed that the mining operations were carried out under the auspices of the State of Andhra Pradesh by entering into a transparent tender process whereby the Director of Mines and Geology (DMG) through MSTC Limited had called for 3 different tenders in 2021 pertaining to excavation, storage and sale of rover sand in the State for 13 districts.