28 Aug 2022  |   05:26am IST


Rampant illegal sand mining is taking place in various parts of Goa along the river beds. This is an issue which is not just restricted to one part of go alone rampant violation of the High Court orders in keeping proper checks on the sand mining mafias, use of CCTV cameras to monitor it and the action the State should take in order to prevent rampant cutting of the riverbed in view of the environment disaster that is happening or some of the key issues that are affecting the State. SUJAY GUPTA in the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint explores what is leading to the unabated illegal sand mining in Goa, how is it damaging the State’s environment and its long term implications on the fragile ecosystem

The concerned authorities of Goa State seem to have turned a blind eye towards the illegal sand mining menace despite media reports and court intervention.

If iron ore mining could be stopped due to illegalities, then sand mining should definitely be stopped as it is leading to huge impact on the river beds, bunds, our environment, fish stock, and farms which are getting destroyed. But the reality is the authorities are turning their blind eye on this problem despite court directives to check this menace.

The activists fighting for the cause of stopping illegal sand mining have already pressed the alarm, informing about the damage river bed sand mining is doing to the local environment.

Be it Bardez, Ponda, Pernem or Salcette everywhere the story is sordid. There have been instances of clashes between locals and sand miners in Pernem taluka. But the police have remained unmoved. Even on occasions when it has reacted, it has come too late. Moreover the police being totally ill-equipped, the offenders are having a field day in carrying out illegalities without anyone to check them.

Social activist and founding member of Goa Foundation advocate Norma Alvarez said, “I have seen several reports in Herald on specific sites where sand mining is happening. I will say that petition that I have filed in the High Court, I often use Herald news clippings to highlight the problem. The issue of sand mining has been it has been taken up before the High Court of Bombay at Goa and also the Supreme Court.

Directions have been passed by the Supreme Court and High Court from time to time. In the High Court, there were petitions that pointed out illegal mining happening in Goa on a very large scale four to five years ago.” 

“The High Court in a very detailed judgment on December 18 2018, issued a slew of directions covering all the authorities regarding what the Director of Mines and Geology, Transport, Captain of Ports, Police and various other agencies have to do. This was in response to a petition filed by an individual and Federation of Rainbow Warriors in January 2019. The Goa Rivers Sand Protectors Network (GRSPN) found the court judgment was being violated within a month’s time. One of the members of the group who was the petitioner in the earlier petition, contacted Goa Foundation, which is the nodal agency for GRSPN,” Adv Alvares said.

Adv Alvares approached the High Court with the contempt petition. The High Court said it was too early to take up this petition since it had just passed the order to stop work. It expressed confidence in government action in this matter.

“Initially for four months there was a reduction in illegal sand mining. But by end of 2019 monsoon, the whole problem started again. The GRSPN filed a petition in 2020 that was disposed off. Another petition was filed in 2021, which is now being heard. The purpose of the contempt petition is not to put anyone behind the bars but to get the orders implemented,” Adv Alvares said.

“It is important for the court to ensure its orders are enforced. Just as much it is important to protect the environment, it is also important to respect the orders passed by the High Court as it is the highest court in the State,” she said.

There were a slew of orders passed such as the police were required to patrol regularly all the affected stretches, conduct surprise inspection day in day and night, intense patrolling in areas which are endemic to illegal sand mining the director of transport was required to inspect every sand-laden truck and check whether they have authorisation because the excuse generally given is it’s coming from neighbouring States like Maharashtra. The Captain of Ports is to inspect the coast, seize the canoes and destroy them.

“But there was no monitoring and the court was so exasperated that it’s specifically told the Director General of Police (DGP) to take necessary steps or face action. The then DGP Indra Dev Shukla passed a detailed standing order on March 17 2022 in which he directed the police to patrol all the sites, maintain 24-hour vigil. But unfortunately that is not happening the way it should have. The sand mining activities decline during monsoon. The work starts as soon as the monsoon recedes,” Adv Alvares said.

Convenor of Ugem Gram Sangharsh Samiti and ex-sarpanch Vinayak Mahale said, “The people are facing this problem since last 10 years. Illegal sand extraction has been going on because of which environment has been badly affected. People of Ugem have suffered a lot.” 

Mahale informed that land admeasuring up to 100 metres has got submerged under the river due to soil erosion. It is due to the efforts of activists Claude Alvares and Norma Alvares, activity of sand mining is stopped since last couple of months.

“We have noticed along with other villages villagers that during night time between 11 pm and 5 am canoes operate in the river and indulge in rampant sand extraction. Most of the activities occur in the Tiracol river flowing through Poroscodem village in Pernem taluka,” Vinayak Mahale said.

“The mangroves, coconut plantations, areca nut plantations have been destroyed. These are the livelihoods of our farmers. Those who are indulging in these illegal activities are getting richer but my people have lost their livelihood and are suffering,” Mahale said.

“Because of the total destruction, villagers once confronted the offenders a year ago. In the process some of the locals were also assaulted. A FIR was lodged at Pernem police station. But the police arrived much later and the offenders escaped with their canoes by them by then,” he added.

Adv Norma Alvares said we didn’t know about this problem at Pernem till she came across news reports.

“Till then we were dealing with the areas which are regular ones like Bardez, Bicholim, Ponda and Salcete. From the news reports we came to know that Pernem was also affected and around 160 metre land had been lost. So, we contacted Mahale and got an affidavit filed in the High Court. The court asked what was happening,” Adv Alvares said.

The same night 50 to 60 canoes were spotted. The police was called at around 10 pm. Two cops arrived on a motorcycle only at around midnight. Moreover, they didn’t have boats. The violators escaped in the canoes and on the other side of river bank, loaded the sand onto the trucks and went off.

Uday Mahale, a social activist from Pernem, said that the local people have taken all possible legal recourse by approaching police, Mamlatdar, Deputy Collector but they never entertained the complaints.

“The police are ineffective in these cases as they don’t have the boats. How will they stop these illegalities in such circumstances?” Uday asked.

Mahale alleged that there is no seriousness visible on part of the authorities to tackle the problem.

“We have last lot of land and crops. We want strict against the offenders so that this illegal sand extraction is stopped. I have personally received threats for reporting the matter to police,” he said.

The lack of action from authorities, indicate lack of sensitivity towards this issue that it deserves. Whether it is a Mamlatdar or Coastal Police, does the response indicate connivance with the land mafia?

“Absolutely,” said Norma Alvares. “I think the police are more than one way involved with the whole economics of sand extraction because there’s money involved in it. There are rumours that the police themselves own several of the canoes and that they are involved in this whole business. This might be true because it’s not possible for trucks to ply or canoes sailing without anyone noticing it. I’m sure there is connivance in this matter,” she said.

About the threats that activists have received, she said that she brought this issue up in the High Court saying that they were being threatened while theyare protecting the ecology at the risk of  their lives.

Then the court appointed two nodal officers – a Deputy Collector each for North and South Goa, who were to receive the complaints, not disclose the names and pass on the message to respective correct authorities.

“I found the nodal officers were simply receiving the complaints and like a postal office they were sending it to everybody. They were not collating the action taken on the complaints. It was a total failure and I told the court there was no reason to have nodal officers because we didn’t need postmen. We needed somebody to send the complaints and get the action taken report on the basis of these complaints,” she said.

Adv Norma Alvares said that it is illegal sand mining because it is happening without permits. There are four new environment clearances (ECs) that have been given. But in a manner that needs to be questioned.

“For last three years nobody has taken permits to do mining legally. Environment Clearance has not been issued either. So these activities are going on in a manner which is absolutely preposterous,” she said.

Adv Alvares further said there’s a Minor Mineral Rule 1996. Under it every material extracted from the earth has a value and one has to pay a fee for it. For example the rate for sand extraction is rupees 5 per cubic meter. You have to get a sand mining permit. But there was a major case in the Supreme Court called the Deepak Kumar versus the State of Haryana where it was about the issue of laterite mining.

The Supreme Court passed very detailed guidelines saying that even if it is for small area, the extractor has to get environment clearance. Union Environment Ministry drew up the Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines (see box).

These are to be complied with in order to get a permit for sand mining. But in Goa sand mining is happening without any permit issued. Initially it was done manually, now suction pumps are being used therefore High Court stopped all this mining.

From 2018 onwards no permits have been granted the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) did a study for the Goa State Biodiversity Board. Once they got their study, the Goa State Environment Authority (GSEA) issued four permits.

“There were seven applications and four areas considered, all on the Chapora river. Interesting part is the application we’re made by Collector and the clearances were also given to the Collector, who’s not the person who will do the mining. So the Goa Foundation challenged these permits on technical grounds. The Collector is supposed to distribute the permits, which is unheard of,” Adv Alvares said.

According to her, the GSEA did not take into consideration about the ecologically sensitive areas near Chapora river before deciding on the permits.

“Very next to it is turtle nesting site at Morjim beach. They didn’t consider the impact on turtle nesting site, which are supposed to be protected. This will disturb the entire ecology. The other thing is, in order to give an Environment Clearance you ought to have a District Survey Plan and the Sand Mining Plan. The Sand Mining Plan entails what areas would be covered, how it will be monitored etcetera. None of this was done,” the Goa Foundation founder-member said.

Vinayak Mahale said the menace of sand mining is spreading beyond Ugem.

“There’s a village Torexem where we have seen four to five canoes operating entire night for extracting sand. Then by early morning the trucks are filled with sand and they leave. Because of this physical sand extraction, last year the under construction highway at Poroscodem village was completely washed away. The railway overbridge that is being built across Tiracol river is also under threat,” Mahale said.

Mahale alleged that four to five gangs are operating in the near vicinity of Poroscodem village.

Speaking on the issue of lack of compensation, Uday Mahale said that nobody has compensated the farmers for losing their land due to soil erosion caused by rampant illegal sand mining.

“Our land is finished. If they had put up a protection wall, our land would have been saved. If we ask for compensation, they pay low rate and with that we cannot purchase land elsewhere. The river has now widened tremendously. Today our fields are destroyed. These fields were with us all these years. We were surviving on these fields. We did not even ask for government job (as compensation),” Uday said. “Our ancestors’ fields have been destroyed,” he added.

Uday further went on to explain how the nature of development adopted in Pernem is taking away land from the people. He said, “Pernem has lost a lot of land due to government projects. Lot of land was lost to Mopa airport. Then we have the cashew plantation. Thereafter they have planned a canal in between the village and the cashew plantation. People have stopped this work.”

“They have ruined our land. Then we have our homes and besides that the National Highway has come up which divides our houses from our fields. Now they are increasing the width of the highway. They finished our land,” Uday rued.

“We need an overbridge to go from our village to our fields to cross the highway. The traffic will increase, we will not be able to cultivate our lands,” Uday said.

Regarding the no holds barred sand mining which is going on in Ugvem village in Pernem taluka and its destructive consequences, Uday said there is now sand mining happening near the railway bridge. The new highway has already collapsed once. Are they trying to fool the farmers? he questioned.

“We have been fooled in the case of Mopa airport, now the highway is coming up. Nothing is left for us,” Uday regretted, as the people of Pernem get crumbs from the development that is encircling them like a claustrophobic menace. 

Destruction of environment is as big as murder of a human being the things are going to be better only when reconsider environment as seriously as a human life the inaction of the authorities is ensuring that violation of reverse or going on unabated with tacit blessings of powers that be stop that is where the danger lies. 

The threats to life of activists are a matter of concern because they are fighting for the environment without any concern for personal welfare. The government has to take this matter seriously and take immediate actions before we lose our fields and our people’s livelihoods completely.