The national green tribunal (NGT) on Sunday banned mining or removal of sand from river beds across the country without an environmental clearance amid the uproar over suspension of an IAS officer who had cracked down on sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh. In its order, the Tribunal noted that the loss caused to the state exchequer due to illegal sand mining may run into lakhs of crores of rupees.
The order was given on a plea alleging that such activities were going on in UP with the "wilful connivance" of its state machinery.
Widening the ambit of the plea, a bench headed by NGT chairman Justice Swatanter Kumar said its order would be applicable across the nation as the petition raised substantial environmental issues.
Initially, the bench banned illegal sand mining on the beds and banks of rivers Yamuna, Ganga, Hindon, Chambal, Gomti, among others, but later modified its order saying the issue of illegally removing sand has nationwide implications. The bench said the clearance has to be obtained from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) or state environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA).
"We restrain any person, company, authority to carry out any mining activity or removal of sand, from river beds anywhere in the country without obtaining environmental clearance from MoEF/SEIAA and license from the competent authorities," the bench said while issuing notices to all respondents seeking their response by August 14. The tribunal also directed all the mining officers and police officers concerned of all the states to ensure compliance of its orders, on the plea filed by the National Green Tribunal Bar Association.
The petition alleged that those who have opposed such sand mining, including field level officers, like suspended SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal, have been victimized which is also apparent from various news reports.
Nagpal, the 28-year-old SDM of Gautam Budh Nagar who led the crackdown on sand mining mafia in her district, was suspended on July 27 ostensibly for ordering demolition of a wall of a under-construction mosque allegedly without following the due process. Nagpal, who belongs to the UP cadre, was chargesheeted yesterday.
Senior advocate Raj Panjwani assisted by advocate Ritwick Dutta, appearing for the association, contended that "rampant" illegal mining and transport of lakhs of tonnes of sand is being carried on every year and is causing a loss of lakhs of crores of rupees to the state exchequer.
UP, Centre spat over Durga Sakthi Nagpal
Meanwhile, a defiant Samajwadi Party (SP) appeared heading for a confrontation with the Centre over the IAS officer's suspension issue, asserting that UP government's decision is "correct and final" and went a step further taunting it to remove all IAS officers from the state.
Firing the first salvo, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said the decision to suspend IAS officer Durga Sakthi Nagpal, who hit the spotlight for cracking down on the sand mafia, is justified.
"It is correct. It is final," he told reporters outside Parliament with a firm "no" on being asked whether the suspension order would be revoked.
Amid the brewing hostility between the SP and the Centre over the suspension issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said government is in touch with the state authorities on the issue and that laid down rules will be followed.
The unrelenting stand of the ruling SP government was also voiced in Lucknow by Chief Minister Akhjilesh Yadav who made it clear that officials who make "mistakes" will be punished.
"There might be many children (sitting here) who I can say would have received a beating from their teachers and parents when they had done something wrong ... the government is also run like this, whenever any official does something wrong he is punished", Akhilesh, who has justified the suspension of Nagpal, a 2010-batch officer, said at a function.
In Delhi, SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav struck a defiant note. "If the Centre wants to intervene, it can remove all the IAS officers from Uttar Pradesh. We will run the state with our own officers," he said.
Minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy said that under the rules, the suspended officer has the right to appeal.
"She has not approached us so far. But if she sends her appeal to us, we will send its copy to the state government and seek its response. Then we will decide the future course of action. Normally, an officer approaches the state government ... We cannot act suo moto," he said.
Nagpal, the 28-year-old SDM of Gautam Budh Nagar, who led the crackdown on sand mining mafia in her district, was suspended on July 27 ostensibly for ordering demolition of a wall of a mosque under construction allegedly without following the due process. Nagpal, who belongs to the UP cadre, was charged on Sunday.