The National Green Tribunal Pune bench on Tuesday directed all collectors and police commissioners in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa to henceforth strictly prohibit and monitor the rampant and illegal sand mining on their beaches.
On the basis of photographic evidence presented to the NGT, it raised the issue of heavy sand extraction in the coastal areas of Raigad, Ratnagiri, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Sindhudurg. “We can’t overlook the fact that there is regular abusive use of sand for construction activities, which are growing manifold. The result, prima facie, appears to be that the sand mafias are also increasing in number,” the order stated.
The PIL that led to the order was filed in the Bombay high court by the Mumbai NGO Awaaz Foundation. It was transferred to the NGT last year.
“Consequences of sand mining on our fragile coastal ecosystems are unimaginable. They are destroying not only sensitive marine life but also the buffer between land and sea, allowing saltwater to penetrate our groundwater table. There are places where coconut trees are falling due to loosening of soil. This is a result of disturbance in sand banks,” said Sumaira Abdulali of the Awaaz Foundation.
An environment ministry notification of 2011 banned the mining of sand, rocks or other materials in a Coastal Regulation Zone. The deliberate ignorance with which the issue of sand mining is treated has led to a 10-fold increase in the confidence and stronghold of the sand mafia in these areas. Their political connections have since ensured their survival despite regulatory policies by the government and, on various occasions, they have been responsible for assaulting environmentalists and government officers. Abdulali herself was assaulted twice in 2004 and 2010 for protesting against the same, with one of the assaults landing her in hospital due to a head injury.
The NGT also refers to the affidavit filed by Navi Mumbai additional commissioner of police, where he reported 57 registered cases of illegal sand mining but no details on the quantity of sand seized and the area of extraction.
The NGT has directed the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority as well as commissioners of all coastal zones and districts to submit detailed status reports on the cases registered and the quantity of sand seized, along with identification and action against the sand mafia, before the next hearing on March 11. They have been asked to take help from the local fishermen, home guards and social organisations.
The deliberate ignorance with which the issue of sand mining is treated has led to a 10-fold increase in the confidence and stronghold of the sand mafia. Their political connections have since ensured their survival despite regulatory policies by the government and, on various occasions, they have been responsible for assaulting environmentalists and government officers.