Bhopal: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, on Monday, announced a blanket ban on excavation of sand from the Narmada river. The ban comes more than 11 years after Chouhan took office. Already, questions are being raised about the ban, which is interim, pending the report of a government panel. A couple of months back, the CM had announced a complete overhauling of the system of supply of supplementary nutritious food to the aaganwadis. But even before formal orders could be issued, the high court stayed the decision only on the basis of the CM’s statement. After the stay, the government is thinking in the terms of allowing the existing firms to continue supplying nutritious food to the aaganwadis for another year. The mining ban may meet a similar fate.

Shiva Corporation and Dijiyana Company are the main actors in the field of sand mining in the state. They have entered into an array of contracts with the government, which will expire between 2018 and 2020. These companies may move court against Chouhan’s announcement banning even legal mining. The companies have entered into contract with the State Mining Corporation and the contract has no provision for the state government unilaterally terminating the contract, barring in cases of a very serious irregularity. Even in that case, the government is first supposed to issue notices.

Moreover, mining the river beds in not possible during the rainy season and that is why the mining companies excavate enough sand during the summers to last till the end of the monsoons. And that is why incidents of illegal mining spike during summers. Thus, enough sand has already been excavated to meet the demand for the construction material during the rains. Hence, the government move is being seen more as a damage control exercise in the wake of serious allegations of large-scale sand mining from the River during the Narmada Seva Yatra than a serious attempt to save the rivers.

The environmentalists are also questioning the government’s decision to replace sand mined from river beds with sand produced in manufacturing plants by crushing stone. They say that first rivers were mined to such an extent that their very existence came under threat and now the government is out to cut mountains and hillocks. Doubts are also being raised on the government’s intent behind promoting manufactured sand. Vinayak Parihar, a social activist who has been campaigning against illegal mining says that more than 450 mining leases have been granted in state. Some of them have not got environmental clearance but others have. Before taking the decision, the government should have examined its options if the leaseholders chose to move courts. And if such options have been worked out, they should be made public.

Parihar said that the state government has miserably failed in curbing illegal mining. Neither the NGT guidelines nor other parameters were adhered to. Had the government been serious about curbing illegal mining, things would not have come to such a pass. State Congress’ chief spokesperson KK Mishra said that his party has been raising the issue of illegal mining for the past 11 years. Mishra said that the government should now come clean on the patrons of illegal mining. He said that after this decision, the government will patronise black marketing of sand.

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