Illegal Sand Mining Impacts Kerala’s River Bodies
One of Kerala’s main problems has been the indiscriminate, unscientific and illegal sand-mining in its river areas. Since the enactment of the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act, 2001, the state has directed all the District Collectors to ensure compliance with this Act.
Over the last few decades, the state’s riverine and riparian ecology has been badly affected by the alarming rate of unrestricted sand mining.
Other staggering ill-effects of uncontrolled sand mining in Kerala are:
Damages the ecosystems of rivers and the safety of bridges.
Weakening of river beds where social, cultural and religious activities take place throughout the year.
Destruction of natural habitats of organisms living on the riverbeds.
Affects fish breeding and migration.
Increases saline water in the river.
Spells disaster for the conservation of many bird species such as storks, sandpipers and egrets that feed on the riverbeds.
Sand Mining Laws in Kerala and Protection Squads
River protection squads have been set up to ensure that the provisions of the Sand Act are strictly complied with. Each squad is well-equipped with wireless sets and vehicles. The personnel comprise a Tahsildar, a police officer who has the rank of a sub inspector, two constables and a revenue officer. Motorboats are also provided to check illegal mining. These motorboat squads will be provided with powerful searchlights. Ramps on river beds that enabled easy vehicular activity were ordered to be abolished.
All river ghats or kadavus will have permanent barricades that are made from cement concrete to block the road’s entire width and thereby, prevent vehicles from approaching closer than 25 metres and only authorized vehicles will be allowed to enter.
Error in Legislation Affects Kerala’s Sand Mining Laws
On 23rd February 2010, it was reported that the Kerala High Court has ordered the quashing of all cases that the State Police have charged under the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act, 2001. The Kerala High Court states that there is an error in the legislation.
The error pertains to Section 25 of the Act. Under section 24, the police can register cases since offences under the Act are cognisable. However, under Section 25, the police can file only a complaint and not a charge sheet before the court.
On January 16, 2010, Justice M. Sasidharan Nambiar ruled that the court cannot take cognizance of an offence that is punishable under the sand Act based on a police report or charge sheet that is filed. He stated that the court may take cognizance if a police officer files a complaint.
On February 3, 2010, the same principle was reiterated in a separate order by Justice P. Bhavadasan. He stated that cognizance cannot be taken based on a police report and that all proceedings in all cases stand quashed so that the state has the liberty to take steps in accordance with the law.
While an amendment to the Sand Act will correct the legislative error, all the stringent action that was taken by the police against the sand mafia under this Act will now be questioned. The powerful sand mafia in the state is sure to welcome this because even those who were charged under the Kerala Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act for illegal sand-mining can now question the legal validity of their detention in court.