A Division Bench of the Madras High Court has confirmed an order passed by its single judge on November 29 to close down all sand quarries in the State within six months and not to open any new quarries too in the interest of protecting the environment.
The Division Bench of Justices K. Kalyanasundaram and T. Krishnavalli dismissed a State appeal preferred against the order passed by Justice R. Mahadevan in the Madurai Bench of the High Court and confirmed all the directions issued by the latter to the State Government.
In his order, the single judge had also directed the government to close down periodically even the granite and other mineral, except jelly stone, quarries in order to maintain ecological balance.
The Court observed that despite its frequent intervention, the state had not been able to curb illegal mining.
“The State of Tamil Nadu has a long history of illegal mining. So far umpteen number of cases have been filed before this Court for the release of vehicle involved in illegal mining and transportation. It is not in dispute that the state has been unsuccessful in curbing the illegal mining.”
The Court has therefore gone on to hold that the directions are not legislative directions but only directions issued for non-compliance of statutory provisions and for failure to safeguard the environment and the ecology, which in the opinion of this Court, is duty enshrined on the High Court under Article 226 of the constitution of India. Further, when there is an alternate source of sand, which is permissible in law, this Court is of the view that the directions cannot be termed as beyond the scope of the writ petition.”
The Court observed that High Courts, which have wide powers to safeguard the Constitution under Article 226, have often been called to step in to to protect the environment by curbing mining activity, whenever the state has failed in its duty under Article 48A and 51A.
To meet the need for sand for constructing buildings, the judge had ordered that the State could permit import of river sand from foreign countries and permit its sale here with relevant documents. He had held that even the government could import sand if there were no legal impediments.
The judge had issued further directions to keep a strict vigil on illegal sand mining by establishing permanent check posts and installing CCTV cameras at those check posts. The erring government servants were also ordered to be prosecuted and suspended from service.