Government releases guidelines to monitor, check illegal sand mining
For Prelims: National Green Tribunal.
For Mains: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.
Context of News:
- In the Backdrop of series of orders by the National Green Tribunal in 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has for the first time released guidelines to monitor and check illegal sand mining in the country.
National Green Tribunal:
- National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.
- NGT is a statutory body.
- The National Green Tribunal has been established on 18.10.2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
- It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. The Tribunal shall not be bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.
- The Tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts.
About the Guidelines:
- Guidelines directs to states to carry out river audits, put detailed survey reports of all mining areas online and in the public domain, conduct replenishment studies of river beds, constantly monitor mining with drones, aerial surveys, ground surveys and set up dedicated task forces at district levels.
- The guidelines also push for online sales and purchase of sand and other riverbed materials to make the process transparent. They propose night surveillance of mining activity through night-vision drones.
- The guidelines say the detailed survey needs to be carried out for quantification of minerals and the demand and supply of the riverbed material through market survey, including the future demand for the next five years.
- The guidelines also push for the sale and purchase of sand and river bed material (RBM) online to make the process more transparent. “In order to curb illegal mining, it is very necessary that the general public is aware of the legal source of sand and RBM suppliers… It is suggested that the state government should develop an online portal for sale and purchase of sand and RBM,” state the guidelines. The state government will also decide the model of sale and the price of RBM.
Impact of illegal sand mining:
- Sand Budget:
- Determining the sand budget for a particular stream reach requires site-specific topographic, hydrologic, and hydraulic information. This information is used to determine the amount of sand that can be removed from the area without causing undue erosion or degradation, either at the site or at a nearby location, upstream or downstream.
- In-channel or near-channel sand-and-gravel mining changes the sediment budget, and may result in subtantial changes in the channel hydraulics. These interventions can have variable effects on aquatic habitat, depending on the magnitude and frequency of the disturbance, mining methods, particle-size characteristics of the sediment, the characteristics of riparian vegetation, and the magnitude and frequency of hydrologic events following the disturbance.
- Riparian Habitat, Flora and Fauna:
- In stream mining can have other costly effects beyond the immediate mine sites. Many hectares of fertile streamside land are lost annually, as well as valuable timber resources and wildlife habitats in the riparian areas. Degraded stream habitats result in loss of fisheries productivity, biodiversity, and recreational potential. Severely degraded channels may lower land and aesthetic values.
- All species require specific habitat conditions to ensure long-term survival. Native species in streams are uniquely adapted to the habitat conditions that existed before humans began large-scale alterations. These have caused major habitat disruptions that favored some species over others and caused overall declines in biological diversity and productivity.
- Stability of Structures:
- Sand-and-gravel mining in stream channels can damage public and private property. Channel incision caused by gravel mining can undermine bridge piers and expose buried pipelines and other infrastructure.
- Several studies have documented the bed degradation caused by the two general forms of in stream mining: (1) pit excavation and (2) bar skimming. Bed degradation, also known as channel incision, occurs through two primary processes:
- Head cutting.
- Hungry water.
- In head cutting, excavation of a mining pit in the active channel lowers the stream bed, creating a nick point that locally steepens channel slope and increases flow energy. During high flows, a nick point becomes a location of bed erosion that gradually moves upstream.
- Hungry water form of bed degradation occurs when mineral extraction increases the flow capacity of the channel. A pit excavation locally increases flow depth and a bar skimming operation increases flow width.
- The enforcement guidelines focus on the “effective monitoring of sand mining from the identification of sand mineral sources to its dispatch and end-use by consumers and the general public and looks at a uniform protocol for the whole country”. The 2020 guidelines are to be enforced simultaneously with the Sustainable Sand Management Guidelines, 2016, but in instances where the two sets of guidelines may seem to be in conflict, the new set will hold legal precedence.
- The need for replenishment study for river bed sand is also required in order to “nullify the adverse impacts arising due to excessive sand extraction”. No riverbed mining will be allowed during the monsoon.
Resettling Kashmiri Pandits
For Mains: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
Context of News:
- Kashmiri Pandits forced out of Muslim-majority Kashmir decades ago are jubilant at the government’s decision to allow all citizens the right to settle there, with many considering an eventual return home if conditions are secure.
Exodus of 1990s:
- Massive crowds assemble in mosques across valley, shouting anti-india, anti-pandit slogans. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits begins. In the next few months, hundreds of innocent Pandits are tortured, killed and raped. By the year-end, about 350,000 Pandits have escaped from the Valley and taken refuge in Jammy and elsewhere. Only a handful of them stay back.
- After more than two decades, the Kashmiri Pandit community has still not been able to return to their ancestral land.
Challenges of Resettling Kashmiri Pandits:
- Fear of Loss of Life:
- The major challenges that government of state and center will be facing is ensuring safety and security of these peoples, especially in hostile hot bet militant area.
- The older generation, in particular, may prefer to return to the Valley, if there is an assurance of security and peace. However, a major problem would be to re-integrate the returnees with the local community, especially in view of their past trauma. Hence, some feel that a return can be negotiated on the condition of establishing a separate satellite township, for the Pandits within the Valley, along with political empowerment and minority status.
- Undoubtedly, settling them in their native habitat appears more challenging given the numbers of pending litigations in various forums regarding illegal occupation of their properties. Therefore, the debate revolves around the issue whether the returnees should be integrated with their old neighborhoods or be made to settle in new clusters/settlements.
- Altering Demographic Changes:
- The displacement of Kashmiri Pandits has always been a controversial subject in Kashmir.
- Many migrants from the region blame their flight from the region on Muslim rebels, accusing their old neighbors of being mute spectators as they fled.
- On the other hand, many Kashmiri Muslims say that the authorities deliberately vacated them from Kashmir to effectively contain the rebellion, which was led predominantly by Muslim guerrillas.
- This resettlement process is seen in Kashmir as process of altering the demographic situation in Kashmir to gain the political benefits.
- It is also believed that through this policy, Indian government intends to settle non-Kashmiri Hindus so as to change the ethnic composition of Kashmir.
- Both Muslims and Pandits will have to find the empathy and generosity to overcome their political differences, particularly since state agencies will do all that they can to blunt any developing solidarities. This is a very difficult task, but if we want the return of a tolerant, shared, syncretic Kashmir and indeed a tolerant, shared, syncretic India.
- The need of the hour is to initiate an exhaustive dialogue between the Pandits and all the stakeholders in the state in order to reach an acceptable and viable solution. Also, the present government needs to forge consensus within the Pandits community regarding their return and settlement in Kashmir. For changes to happen and promises to be fulfilled, the government must show sincerity about facilitating the return of Kashmiri Pandits but progress has been extremely limited. Without wider consultations and a general consensus, any package would be unacceptable and unviable.
- In short, the issue of rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley is unlikely to make much headway without consensus among the various stakeholders. With fresh attempts by the present Government towards rehabilitation of the Pandits, there is hope but amidst fears that the fate of the displaced community may continue to hang in uncertainty for some more time to come.
- The renewed attempts from the Indian government instil a sense of optimism within the community on the issue of their rehabilitation. Nevertheless, there are concerns, which raise multiple questions about the viability of their return. On the whole, a financial package may help the displaced families in establishing a place to live, but concerns regarding their safety and livelihood in terms of jobs and infrastructure remain. Questions about their safety in Kashmir have also been a cause of worry for the community. Specifically, the Kashmiri Pandits are fearful of falling prey to another cycle of jihadi violence and communal strife in the state.