Bhubaneswar: Even as a whopping over 45 per cent of the Tehsils in Odisha report massive illegal sand mining, the State government has apparently gone pound sand to the problem. Odisha, along with Jharkhand, is the only two major states in the country that have no policy on the sand.
With illegal mining of major minerals in Odisha having been shrunk to a mere 1 case in the first half of 2020-21 from over 45 in 2017-18, courtesy of the SC guidelines post the famous Shah Committee report, illegal sand mining has emerged as a lucrative business for mining mafia in the State.
The role of the Odisha government in putting shackles on the rampant illegal mining looks lackadaisical because, replying in Odisha Assembly recently, Revenue and Disaster Minister Sudam Marandi conceded that Odisha has neither estimated the demand - consumption of sand in the State nor has fixed any price for the sale of sand.
As per Union Government's Sand mining framework released in 2018, Sand mining policy is a policy imperative for a State because, sans policy, indiscriminate mining of sand in a surplus state could lead it to turn into a deficit state.
IS ODISHA A SURPLUS SAND STATE?
As per the data provided by the State Revenue and Disaster Management Minister, Odisha has been a sand surplus State for a long period of time
The State has been exporting sand to the tune of nearly 2.7 lakh cum during the period of 2018-21.
HOW POLICY HAZE IS A BOON FOR ILLEGAL MINING?
- Since Odisha has not analysed its demand-supply situation, it has the risk of turning into a sand deficit State because the natural availability of sand will not increase.
- Odisha is yet to prescribe any threshold area for sand mining in the State. As per the Central mining framework, the threshold area limit for sand mining should be fixed at 5 hectares only.
- Non-formulation of any pricing model incurs heavy revenue loss to the State when the State Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari is feeling the revenue resource crunch while funding State government schemes.
The above salient points hint at how the lack of sand mining policy is proving a blessing for the illegal sand miners in the State.
As per the minister's reply, the Odisha government has decided to draft a sand Mining policy for the State in 2018. He added further that the draft policy is still in the discussion phase. The Minister also didn't outline any timeframe for implementing the policy in the State.
Royalty: The total revenue earned from sand in 2019-20 had been Rs 680 crore against Rs 303 crore in 2018-19 The State has collected revenue to the tune of Rs 37.11 crore during the period of April and May 2020 from minor minerals.
ODISHA SAND MINING REGULATIONS
In order to curb illegal mining, the Odisha government had set up a separate regulating agency. The agency is authorised to take strict action and undertake a robust monitoring mechanism using technology to prevent the illegal lifting and theft of minor minerals. In August 2019, the State government set up a Directorate of Minor Minerals under the administrative control of the Revenue and Disaster Management department.
But it dithered in bringing out a Sand Mining Policy.
ILLEGAL SAND MINING - A REALITY CHECK
August 2020: The NGT’s Principal Bench verified the allegations of villagers and activists regarding illegal sand mining and then passed an order banning sand mining in the Subernarekha River.
October 2020: The National Green Tribunal restrained sand mining along the Brahmani river bed in the Kendrapara district. The NGT had even directed the Chief Secretary to take action against the Kendrapara Collector and SP for filing incorrect documentation.
August 2020: A law and order situation had been witnessed in Hinjli - CM Naveen Patnaik's Assembly Constituency - as eight sand-laden vehicles were set on fire at Kolidaspur under the Hinjili police limits in Aska on Aug 22.
Protesting against illegal sand mining, it was reported that a section of the irate locals set a tractor, a JCB and a tipper on fire that was being used for illegal sand mining in the river bed near the village. The grouse of villagers was they allege that the riverbed will be damaged due to illegal sand mining.
As per official data, when one was killed due to a road accident during illegal sand mining, two activists against illegal sand mining were killed in the State during the year 2019-20.
The State has no data to show regarding a number of the attack on government officials in the anti-illegal sand mining squad. There is no data on the number of FIRs and court cases on illegal sand miners.
THE BOTTOMLINE: The Odisha Sand policy is in the deep sea and the illegal miners are making hay by digging in deep pockets.