Sand mining in coastal areas: Legal procedures to follow

Understanding the legal status of sand mining is important before pursuing any remedy or seeking a regulatory response from concerned authorities. Here’s how it can be done.
There are various laws in the country to regulate illegal sand mining. (Source: IWP Flickr photos)
There are various laws in the country to regulate illegal sand mining. (Source: IWP Flickr photos)

The river beds, banks, fish and all the other organisms living in and around the river are a major source of livelihood for the traditional communities who live there. The river beds have sand, which is extracted for both domestic and commercial use. However, the excessive removal of sand, boulders and stones from the rivers, creeks, estuaries and beaches can destroy the river beds, affect the fish catch and clam collection in that region. It may cause river bank erosion, changes in the flow pattern, intrusion of saltwater into adjacent water bodies. Moreover, in coastal areas, this can potentially lead to land erosion and intrusion of seawater during high tide. 

Sand mining, (the removal of sand, boulders and stones from riverbeds and beaches), is an activity which is regulated through various national and state laws. Legally, it can be carried out only after obtaining permissions and with mandatory safeguards. In case you or anyone you know is impacted by this activity, the information below can help map the laws that regulate riverbed and coastal sand mining. It also specifies which government institutions can be approached.

There are various steps that might be required to understand the legal status of sand mining before pursuing any remedy or seeking a regulatory response from concerned authorities. These are specified in three sections:

Section I: The collection of background information, including but not limited to identification of the location and the lease area and obtaining clearance letters issued for the mining operations. Section II: The understanding of legal hooks which one can use to form the basis of a complaint. Section III: The identification of the appropriate government authority, to whom the complaint is to be filed.

What are the information required? 

S.No. Document  Issued under Institutions
I. Prior permissions
1. Environment Clearance (EC) for Category B1 projects. Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA)
  EC for Category B2 projects. District Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA)
2.  CRZ clearance (in case of estuarine beds and coastal area) Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011 State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA)
3. Forest clearance(when forest land is involved) Forest Conservation Act, 1980 Forest Department (Division Forest Officer)
4.  Panchayat clearance for sand collection/storage  Panchayat Raj Act, 1991 Village Panchayat
  • To establish if approval has been taken or not, the documents specified in this section will need to be collected and examined, along with exact location referring to a village map.
  • The location, validity of the clearances, Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of the length and width of sand bar, the approved area (in hectares) will be available in the EC, and are useful information. This information will help understand whether or not violations exist.
  • Photographs and videos of the site where sand mining is taking place and newspaper reports are important since they can be used as evidence.

What are the available legal hooks?

Once the documents and evidence specified in the above section are gathered, two scenarios may emerge. The legal hooks available to form the basis of the complaints are explained in each of the scenarios:

Scenario A: In case an approval or permission has not been taken 

I. If an approval has not been taken from either the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) or District Level Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.

  • Under Section 2 of the EIA Notification 2006, it is mandatory to obtain prior environmental clearance for projects or activities listed in the Schedule. 
  • For matters falling under Category ‘A’ in the Schedule, the concerned regulatory authority is the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). 
  • For matters falling under Category ‘B1’ in the Schedule, it is the SEIAA with respect to mining, in 2 (b) of Schedule, mineral beneficiation <0.1 million ton/annum is categorized under B and clearance can be obtained from SEIAA. 
  • Since 2016, a third category of projects namely, Category ‘B2’ has been constituted. The DEIAA has been constituted to grant environmental clearances to minor mining projects. 
  • Any violation of Section 2 is a punishable offence under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), 1986 and can be reported to the SEIAA and the DEIAA. 

II. If an approval has not been taken as per the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (CRZ), 2011.

The CRZ Notification was enacted to regulate activities within the coastal areas. Areas up to 500 meters from the coast are demarcated into four different zones. Certain activities as per Para. 3 of the Notification are prohibited within the CRZ. Mining of sand is prohibited in the following manner in the Notification:

  • Para 3(X) specifies that mining of sand, rock and other sub-strata are prohibited.
  • Para 3(XIII) specifies that the dressing or altering sand dunes, hills, natural features including landscape changes for beautification, recreation and other purposes are prohibited. 

Scenario B: In cases where approval or permission has been taken

  • In case approvals or permissions have been taken then read all the documents collected as per the details given in Section I. 
  • These documents will help determine whether the mining operations are happening as per what is specified in the compliance conditions. 
  • For example, a violation could be, that the clearance might have been given for 2 hectares, but in reality, the mining activity might be happening beyond that specified area. 
  • There would be two sets of conditions specified in these documents. One, a general set of conditions and the other, a specific set. It is important to read both to get a better understanding.
  • The non-compliance can be reported to the authority which has granted the clearance. 
  • The condition violated must be specified in the complaint and be accompanied by evidence of the non-compliance.

Where can the complaint be filed?

Situation Authority to whom complaint may be addressed:
A. Non-compliance of clearance taken from SEIAA/ DEIAA.
  1. SEIAA office in the respective state.
  2. DEIAA office in the respective state.
B. Non- compliance of other orders/ clearances. Director, Department of Mines and Geology, in the respective state.
C. Non-compliance of Panchayat lease agreements/ clearances. Village Panchayat (PDO), a copy of the complaint must also be sent to the Taluka Panchayat Executive Office and the Assistant Commissioner, Taluka Sand Monitoring Committee.

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