Home Uttarakhand HC bans mining in rivers with machinery, with immediate effect

HC bans mining in rivers with machinery, with immediate effect

By Arun Pratap Singh
Nainital, 19 Dec:  In an important decision, the Uttarakhand High Court today banned quarrying in rivers with the help of machines in the state, with immediate effect. The order was given during a hearing of a PIL filed against illegal mining and quarrying in the state. Along with this, the High Court has also directed the state government to file a counter affidavit regarding royalty by 12 January. The case has been filed by Lalkuan Haldwani Halduchaud resident, Gagan Parashar and others. The matter was heard by a double bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice RC Khulbe.
The petitioners had pleaded in their petition that as per the rules, mining or quarrying was permitted only manually in the state. However, in gross violation of this rule, mining and quarrying was being carried out in the rivers on a grand scale with the help of machines like JCB. The petitioners also pointed out that the royalty rates for the government agencies engaged in quarrying and the private contractors engaged in quarrying were also different, and that this difference was intended to benefit the private contractors unduly. The petitioners further claimed that while the royalty rates were fixed for the Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation, a government agency was Rs 31 per quintal as per the website of Forest Development Corporation while the royalty payable by the private mining firms was only Rs 12 to Rs 19 per quintal, which is a major difference and intended to unduly benefit the private players.
The petitioners have demanded banning of mining. The petitioners claimed that the huge difference in the rates of the royalty on mining payable by the government and the private agencies was huge, and this was causing huge loss to the state exchequer. As the mined or quarried material was available at cheaper rates from the private miners, most of the consumers were buying the materials from private traders only. The petitioners have demanded a uniform royalty on mining for both the government and the private agencies. They have also demanded a ban on quarrying in the rivers using machines. Expressing displeasure over alleged large scale illegal mining in the state, the High Court ordered the district magistrates of all the districts to seize all the machinery engaged in river mining across the state, The court also asked the Secretary Mining to explain why private miners had been given undue benefit through fixing different rates of royalty for government and the private agencies.  The next hearing in this matter will be on 12 January. The government will have to file its counter affidavits by 12 January in response to the court order.
Meanwhile the court has banned mining with machines in all rivers and banks with immediate effect. These orders have been given to all the District Magistrates being the Chairmen of the District Mining Task Force. They have been ordered to seize all mining machinery engaged in river mining.

Given the massive scale of illegal mining with the help of JCB machines in rivers and hills across the state, it remains to be seen, how much proactive steps are actually taken by the district magistrates since it is generally believed that there is a powerful political- bureaucracy nexus that is behind the large scale illegal quarrying and mining in the rivers and the hills across the state. Politicians from across the political spectrum are believed to behind the mining business in the state. Majority of the private contractors engaged in quarrying in the rivers and riverbeds are considered to be politically well connected and to be having strong political backing of leaders cutting across the political spectrum as well as of the bureaucrats. In fact, some present and past bureaucrats have been particularly infamous in this connection.