Illegal sand mining is one of the major issues in Madhya Pradesh, it poses a great threat to the life line of the state -- the Narmada, the Ken, the Shipra, the Chambal rivers. So, the issue was raked up during the assembly elections held last November.
In the first cabinet meeting after parliamentary elections, the state cabinet has passed a new sand mining policy banning ‘mechanised’ sand mining from Narmada. “No machinery can be used for mining of sand from the Narmada river,” said State Law Minister PC Sharma, after the cabinet meeting.
Besides, the cabinet has also withdrawn and reframed policies like lease distribution ownership, tenure of lease and auctions of mining. “Panchayats are no longer authorised to approve mining contracts. It has been withdrawn by the cabinet. Mining lease will be given to companies via auction. No company will be given mining lease for more than two years at a time,” he said.
The Congress, when in opposition, had been accusing the BJP government of rampant corruption and illegal sand mining across the state. So, it was expected that the Sand Mining Policy would see a major change when the Kamal Nath government took charge of the state.
According to the new policy, panchayats which were given the rights for sand mining by the previous government, will now no longer enjoy the privilege. “Contract for sand mining will be given to companies by auction through e-tender by the mining department. It will end sand mining syndicates in the state and usher in transparency”, the law minister added.
In 2017, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government had given rights to panchayats for the mining of sand. Out of the royalty paid at ₹125 per cubic metre, ₹50 went to panchayats, another ₹50 went to the district administration and ₹25 to the state exchequer.
The law minister explained that the new policy will take special care that rate of sand royalty does not increase from ₹125 per cubic metre.
“Though mining rights are being withdrawn from panchayats, they will continue to get the royalty. Instead of their share of ₹50 per cubic metre, panchayats will now get ₹75 per cubic metre,” he said.
“In the last financial year, the former state government received just ₹69 crore as revenue from the royalties due to the rampant theft of sand through illegal mining. Our estimates are that this government’s policy will increase revenue to ₹900 crore,” the minister added.
Need to save rivers from illegal mining, says activist
In 2018, Narmada had dried up at many places for the first time in hundreds of years, according to the social activist, Medha Patkar.
One of the largest rivers of the peninsula, Narmada originates near the Amarkantak range of mountains in Madhya Pradesh. The biggest water source for Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, it is the fifth largest river in India and the largest one in Madhya Pradesh.
With six big dams and power projects on it, the river has been facing environmental threats due to illegal mining, deforestation, and now the river linking project.
“Mining is one of the biggest threat the rivers of state are facing. Earlier, people who were displaced after dam projects used to face floods, but, now they are facing the problem of drought. The life line of the state needs to be saved else the people will die due to famine.” Said Patkar.
Another activist working to save the Narmada, Vinayak Parihar, explains, "It’s a welcome move by the government but not enough. The implementation of these policies must be carefully watched. The tributaries of Narmada are drying almost every year. Sand mining is the biggest threat," he added.
Referring to a report published by the website, Firstpost.com regarding dying rivers of the state, Parihar said, “The government should consider such reports before making policies. The mechanised illegal mining is rampant and it should not be stopped only in Narmada but also in Shipra, Ken and Chambal.”
Attack on sand mining syndicate
“There will be no syndicate which means that one company will not be given contracts in multiple districts. There will be no monopoly of any company in sand mining. Contract will be given for two years only through online process. It will usher in transparency,” The law minister said.
Speaking to reporters after the cabinet meeting on Monday, Sharma said, “This policy will come into effect as soon as the government gets the environmental clearance. Narmada can’t be excavated for sand mining with machines. No digging will be permitted for mining of sand, not even in the nearby fields. Whatever sand comes afloat or gets washed on the banks of the river may be collected.”
The erstwhile government's free sand for household requirements of farmers and the poor will continue but with a certain limit. They can take free sand for renovation and construction of home up to ten cubic metres, the new policy said. For government construction works, the sand will be supplied free of cost.