Jaipur: Over the past few years, illegal sand mining in Rajasthan has proliferated and even turned deadly, with casualties on both the sides – the government and the illegal miners.
What started as a means to regulate sand mining in Rajasthan turned into a full-blown mafia operation because the state has not been able to curb its decade-old practice of allowing sand mining on short term work permits despite Supreme Court directions mandating environment clearances for all the sand mining projects.
The Wire presents a timeline of how the amended sand mining rules never came into force.
1986: The Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1986 provided for extraction of the sand by way of short-term permits upon payment of royalty, which meant that anybody could excavate sand without any lease or environmental clearance simply by paying royalty at the check post.
2006: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006 made environmental clearance mandatory for all projects.
2012: The Supreme Court deprecated the practice of sand mining in Rajasthan and directed the state to explain the legality and proprietary of granting royalty collection contracts while granting individual leases.
May 23, 2012: The Rajasthan government then brought about amendments to the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1986. It deleted the proviso to sub-rule (3) of Rule 63 which allowed mining operations through the issuance of short-term permits.
The other significant amendments provided for a grant of mining lease for sand only by way of tender or auction and restriction on renewal of sand mining lease.
June 21, 2012: Through a notification, the Rajasthan government kept the amended Rules in abeyance, and reinstated the earlier regime of extraction of sand by way of short term permits without securing environmental clearance from the MoEFCC.
August 31, 2012: A Public Interest Litigation challenging the notification and seeking directions that mining activity be carried out only after obtaining environmental clearance, was filed before the high court of Rajasthan, Jaipur Bench.
October 2012: Rajasthan government invited tenders for 130 mining leasehold areas.
January – May, 2013: Letters of Intent (LOI) were issued to the successful bidders as per the terms of the 1986 Rules, requiring compliance with the conditions-
- submission of the mining plan,
- obtaining environmental clearance from the MoEFCC within 1 year, and
- submitting affidavit for financial assurance.
All the LOI holders complied only with conditions (i) and (iii) – submitted the mining plan and affidavit for financial assurance.
April 15, 2013: The Rajasthan high court directed the MoEFCC to clear the pending applications in respect of Environmental Clearance Certificate within a period of three months, and the state government to decide the applications within three months from the date of the issuance of a certificate by the ministry.
The Advocate General has also agreed that after expiry of the total period of six months from the date, the Mining Department will not recover royalty and other charges as per earlier provisions and will comply with the provisions of the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession (Amendment) Rules, 2012.
October 21, 2013: Upon the expiry of the six-month period, the state government filed an application for extension of time. The High Court rejected it stating that the state cannot allow mining in the absence of environmental clearance.
October 26, 2013: The state took the matter to the Supreme Court through a special leave petition and contended that the mining activity had come to a standstill and “the entire blame is on MoEFCC/SIEAA for not having requisite structure for granting environmental clearance in a time bound and expeditious manner.”
November 25, 2013: The Supreme Court observed that given that the excavation of river sand was important for development activities and could not be brought to a stand-still, a balance had to be struck with the maintenance of river bed, and thus everyone could be permitted to excavate.
Hence, the apex court directed that only the LOI holders who had applied for environmental clearance would be permitted to undertake the mining activity on their lease hold area till February 2014, which was the deadline to obtain the environment clearance (one year)
December 19, 2013: Following the SC directions to allow LOI holders to mine while their environmental clearance applications were being processed by the MoEFCC, the state government issued Temporary Working Permissions (TWPs) in their favour.
The TWPs had imposed a number of completely new conditions, including:
- Payment of 20% of the total bid amount per annum during the period of operations, over and above the bid amount already payable;
- Payment of balance 25% of the total bid amount, with only 50% remaining payable at the stage of execution of mining lease;
- Payment of minimum guaranteed royalty on a monthly basis. (This amount was irrespective of the excavation made)
The state authorities also imposed an additional condition of granting only 75% of the lease hold area for mining rather than providing the entire area.
These conditions imposed by the state government forced the LOI holders to pay even more than the total bid amount payable under the tender.
2014: While the environmental clearance applications were still pending with the MoEFCC, the LOI holders sought extension in lieu of which the state government imposed penalty.
February 13, 2014: The state filed an application for extension of time to allow mining on TWPs as the environment clearance was still pending before MoEFCC.
February 24, 2014: The SC granted extension.
September-October, 2014: 27 LOI holders surrendered their temporary working permits pointing out that the arbitrary terms and conditions imposed on mining were not feasible. They undertook to deposit the penalty for delay in obtaining the environment clearance and continue the mining operations only after the lease becomes effective.
2015: The LOI holders had applied to the Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board (RSPCB) for conducting the public hearing in 2014, but it was conducted only in 2015, after a delay of almost a year, without any reasons being assigned.
The Environmental Impact Assessment-Environmental Management Plan (EIA-EMP) report was revised on the basis of the minutes of the public hearing by the LOI holders. Till this time, the LOI holders had taken all steps towards grant of environmental clearance, including submission and approval of terms of reference, request for public hearing, and submission and amendment of EIA-EMP report.
August 2015-April 2016: The Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC) considered the revised EIA-EMP reports submitted by the LOI Holders and recommended most of them for grant of environment clearance.
February 2016: The MoEFCC granted environment clearance to 12 project proponents on the strength of positive recommendations by the EAC. However, the balance applications, despite the positive recommendations by EAC, were kept pending without any formal orders.
October 25-26, 2016: Rather than acting on the recommendation of the EAC, the MoEFCC reconstituted the EAC. The reconstituted EAC held its meeting on October 24, 2016, and while reconsidering the LOI holders’ environment clearance application, imposed a completely new condition for conducting a scientific replenishment study on the basis of the pre-monsoon and post-monsoon figures.
The new condition was a complete volte-face from the one originally imposed in the terms of reference, which had required the replenishment to be only mathematically calculated as per a formula.
January 30, 2017: A writ petition seeking mandamus to the state for execution of mining lease. It stated that despite the environmental clearance being granted on February 24, 2016 the state authorities did not executed the mining lease as the functioning under TWPs was financially more profitable and viable for the government.
April 13, 2017: The state authorities issue notice for cancellation of LoI specifically to the LoI holders, who had surrendered the TWPs and were not functioning in terms of the directions of the Department of Mines dated December 19, 2013.
April 18, 2017: The LOI holders hired a government agency called the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) to conduct replenishment study for the lease hold areas.
November 16, 2017: The Supreme Court restrained all the 82 mining lease holders from carrying out sand mining unless a scientific replenishment study is completed and the matter is fully and dispassionately considered by the MoEFCC and environment clearance is granted or rejected.
December 28, 2017: After the SC stayed mining operations for the 82 lease hold areas and directed the replenishment study to be conducted, the state authorities again started giving short term permits for sand mining by amending rule 51 of the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 2017 to include sand for the grant of short term permits.
It must be noted that the same short term permits were deprecated by the SC in Deepak Kumar Vs State of Haryana and it was further observed that the grant of such short term permits was unacceptable as they cause grave damage to the environment.
January 8, 2018: The EAC sought additional information after the replenishment report was submitted by the CMPDI, and imposed a further condition that the cross section of the leasehold areas would be required for processing the applications further. These cross sections had to be submitted by the state government to the MoEFCC.
February 2018: The project proponent who had applied for short term permits after the December 28, 2017 notification, was granted environmental clearance by the District-level Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (DEIAA) without any Environment Management Plan or any replenishment study.
April, 2018: The state government prepared the cross sections for the leasehold areas, and submitted the same to the MoEFCC on April 19 and 23 in 2018.
May 31, 2018: The EAC took up the applications for environment clearance. Rather than processing the applications on the basis of the cross-sections submitted by the state government, the EAC imposed another new condition, and asked for the depth of each of the cross-sections of the leasehold areas, as well as other information which were not sought earlier.
“The Committee deliberated the sections submitted by PP and noted that it is not clear from the section that till what depth material will be excavated. Thus, the PP is required to submit the sections clearly marking the area to be excavated and depth of the excavation of mineral. The same needs to be verified by the State Mines and Geology Department, Govt. of Rajasthan.”
May 10, 2019: The Supreme Court directed that the letter of intent shall not be cancelled and not be put to auction.
May 30, 2019: The LOI holders, filed a writ petition before the Rajasthan high court, Jaipur Bench, praying that the writ of mandamus may be issued against the state government with the direction to process the environmental clearance applications.
May 31, 2019: The high court issued interim directions for processing the environmental clearance of the LOI holders, but the state chose to process only seven cases, where mining lease was already granted.
July 8, 2019: The high court disposed of the petition after recording the statement of the Additional Advocate General, that they would process the environment clearance application of all the LOI holders and submit the same to MoEFCC.
“Mr. R.P. Singh, learned Additional Advocate-General for the State-respondents undertakes to do the needful forthwith, however, reserving his right on the legal issues to be adjudicated by the Apex Court. In view of the above, no further proceedings are required on the above noted writ application for the State-respondents has undertaken to proceed further in accordance with the order of the Supreme Court (supra).”
September 30, 2019: The LOI holders served a notice for contempt of court to the state authorities for not processing the environment clearance applications, despite the directions of the high court.
February 12, 2020: AME Sawai Madhopur forwarded replenishment report to MoEFCC, missing out the compulsory details.
February 19, 2020: The Supreme Court directed the Central Empowering Committee to submit a report into the allegations of illegal mining and the delay in issuance of environment clearance.