The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, on Wednesday, directed the Tamil Nadu Government to stop all sand quarrying and mining activities within six months and prohibited it from opening any sand quarries in the future.
Justice R. Mahadevan issued the order "in larger interest, for the welfare of the people of the State, to protect the environment, river beds, river bodies and the field of agriculture on which thousands of farmers are thriving".
The Court also advised the State to import sand instead, in order to meet the requirements of the people, opining that this would "not only be a cost effective, but also hopefully facilitate in rejuvenation from the damage".
The Court was hearing a Petition filed by the Managing Director of M/s. M.R.M. Ramaiya Enterprises Private Limited, demanding an order to the State to permit it to transport the silica sand it had imported from Malaysia and stocked at the New Harbor stockyard at Tuticorin port. The Company had been denied such transportation even after providing proper invoice, bill of entry along with proof of GST on import within TN.
The Court accepted the Petitioner's contentions and ruled, "In the present case, the petitioner has produced appropriate Certificate, which this Court has no reason to disbelieve. Therefore, under the above circumstances, this Court is of the view that State does not have the power to restrict the petitioner to deal with the imported sand either under the Tamil Nadu Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1959 or under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Illegal Mining, Transportation and Storage of Minerals and Mineral Dealers Rules, 2011 and hence, the petitioner succeeds."
It then left it open to the State to bring in appropriate legislation to regulate movement, stocking and sale of imported sand, while noting that the illegal mining in the State "has gone to a rampant level where it is difficult to even assess the excess quantity of sand and minerals mined".
The Court, thereafter, issued the following directions:
"(a) The State shall stop all sand mining/quarrying activities in the State of the Tamil Nadu within six months from today and shall not open any new sand quarries/mines in future;
(b) The quarries of granites and other minerals, except, jelly, have to be periodically closed to maintain ecological balance;
Import of river sand
(c) The respondents shall forthwith issue appropriate directions to the authorities concerned enabling the importers to transport and sell the imported river sand with appropriate directions to the importers to produce all the import related documents and maintain proper records reflecting the quantity imported, sold, stock in hand and other necessary particulars before the Mines and Commercial Taxes Departments respectively, to check evasion of taxes;
(d) The State shall depute a team with experts from the Geological Department to identify, process and import the sands and minerals from countries which permit export and display them for public and the 15th respondent shall cause to effect a publication as to the countries which permit export of sand and the procedures thereof to be complied with;
(e) The State shall also take a decision to import river sand by the State owned Corporation itself to meet out the short-supply of sand within the State, if there is no other legal impediments;
(f) The District Collectors and the Superintendents of Police of all the Districts concerned, in consultation with the officials of the Commercial Taxes Department, shall issue appropriate directions to their Subordinate Officers, to distinguish what kind of minerals, are permitted to be transported, inter-state or intra-state and what are the documents, required to be possessed and displayed to the officers, at the check posts, if any;
(g) The State shall establish permanent check-posts within the State with the officers equipped sufficiently to curb and prevent the illegal mining and transportation of sand; the check post officers shall maintain the record of all the vehicles crossing by; the State shall also fix camera at the check posts and connect the same with a common server to ensure that illegal mining and transportation is curbed;
Action against illegal mining
(h) The State shall initiate appropriate and immediate action against the persons involved in illegal mining, transportation and storage in the State and proceed for the permanent confiscation of the vehicle involved in the illegal activities and cancellation of the Registration Certificate of the vehicle, without any scope for the owner of the vehicle to plead ignorance;
(i) The State shall constitute a Committee to ascertain the loss caused to the Government and take steps to recover the same from the Companies, individuals including the erring Government Servants, whose hand if found, be immediately suspended and prosecuted as per law;
Regulation of sale of imported sand
(j) The imported sand must be tested before the goods are cleared, if Quality Certificate is not produced by the importer and for that purpose, scientific methods for testing be deployed;
(k) If any sale related to imported sand is proposed to be carried out, the same has to be done by strictly following the provisions as well as the Rules of local enactments, i.e., under the GST laws;
(l) The State shall be at liberty to bring in an enactment to regulate and handle such imported sand within the State, maintenance of records, etc;
(m) The respondents 13 to 16 shall issue appropriate guidelines specifying the quality of sand and its usage so as to enable the importers to get appropriate sand with Certificate from the exporter/authorities in foreign soil, so that the life and property of the common public is not jeopardized and the natural wealth of the State is preserved; and
(n) A copy of this order be marked to all the parties concerned forthwith for strict compliance/adherence."