Aghast at the illegal mining of sand, gravel and rocks, done with impunity in Punjab at the cost of the exchequer and the environment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has hit the nail on the head by calling out the influential mafia for the menace. This HC observation echoes the thrust of The Tribune’s ongoing ‘Deep Nexus’ series of news reports that expose the dark underbelly of the deep-rooted alliance between politicians and officials in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Riverbeds and hills are being plundered right under the nose of the authorities. Sadly, directives and bans by the NGT and courts to regulate quarrying have not had the desired effect as the mighty miners hold sway in their respective areas.
The AAP government in Punjab on Thursday took a bold remedial decision to strictly regulate sand quarrying, though it is too early to say how effectively it could implement its well-meaning policy. On the other hand, the Haryana CM has dismissed the problem as mere stray incidents. Warning humanity that it was on the cusp of a sand crisis as unsustainable extraction was adversely affecting rivers, lakes and coastlines — which, in turn, harms the ecology and destroys habitats of biodiversity — a UN report in April bracketed India among the world’s worst offenders vis-a-vis sand greed.
Undoubtedly, a case is made out for the Centre’s intervention for curbing this nefarious activity that has also cost lives of cops and other law enforcers, activists and journalists. Parliament last year amended the mining Act and the Environment Ministry in 2016 laid out guidelines to effect reforms in the beleaguered sector. While the Centre is proactively monitoring the mining of coal and minerals, including iron, gold and manganese, to help the states, it would do well to also pay attention to sand and gravel quarrying. The use of remote surveillance to keep an eye on the mining sites and aggressive tapping of crop residue and municipal waste as alternatives to sand in construction can help the authorities tackle the menace.
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