November 29, 2017
Image credit : Illustrative Image
In a significant judgement that would go a long way in protecting the rivers in Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to stop all sand mining and quarrying activities within six months from today.
In a 77-page order, Justice R Mahadevan also restrained the State from opening any new sand quarries or mines in future. The quarries of granites and other minerals except jelly have to be periodically closed to maintain ecological balance, the order said.
The river sand importers got some relief as the collectors have been asked to issue appropriate directions to the authorities concerned enabling the importers to transport and sell the imported river sand. The importers should maintain proper records and produce documents reflecting the quantity imported, sold, stock in hand and other necessary particulars before the Mines and Commercial Taxes Department to help them check evasion of taxes.
The imported sand must be tested before the goods are cleared if quality certificate is not produced by the importer for which scientific methods of testing should be done, the court said, allowing sale related to imported sand under the GST laws.
It also gave the liberty to the TN government to bring in an enactment to regulate and handle such imported sand within the state. The judge ordered the secretaries to the union ministries of Mines, Environment and Commerce to issue appropriate guidelines specifying the quality of sand and its usage so as to enable the importers get such sand with certificate from the exporter and authorities in the foreign country. This would ensure that the life and property of the common public is not jeopardised and the state’s natural wealth is preserved, justice Mahadevan said.
Directing the state government to depute a team of experts from the Department of Geology to identify, process and import the sands and minerals from countries which permit export and display them for public, Justice Mahadevan asked the State to take a decision to import river sand by the state-owned corporation to meet the short-supply of sand within Tamil Nadu.
Quoting Tirukkural liberally in his elaborate order, Justice Mahadevan concluded, “The court feels that the State will keep the public interest paramount rather than any other interest and rise to the emergent occasion to protect and preserve the natural resources and environment, which in turn would pave way for a better life to our future generations.”
The judgement was delivered based on a writ petition filed by M.R.M.Ramaiya, the Managing Director of M.R.M.Ramaiya Enterprises Pvt Ltd, seeking to forbear the Collectors, SPs and Assistant Doirectors of Geology and Mines of Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts and VOC Port Trust from insisting for licence, permit, transport slip etc under the TN Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1959, during the transportation of imported river sand from the new harbour stockyard at the Thoothukudi port to the petitioners’ customers.
According to the petitioner, an agreement of sale and purchase of natural sand from Malaysia was entered into between his and a Singapore company according to which the seller agreed to supply 1 lakh metric tonnes of river sand from Sungai Pahang River in Kuantan to him at Thoothukudi port. The seller dispatched the first shipment of 55,443.84 MT which reached Thoothukudi port on October 14, 2017.
The petitioner sold 96 tonnes to a private firm who in turn sold it to a customer at Marthandam in Kanyakumari district for construction purpose. But the 6 lorries carrying the imported sand were seized by the local police and handed over to Assistant Director of Geology and Mines and cases were booked against the drivers that they had transported the sand without valid permits. The VOC Port chairman too sent a communication denying nod to transport the sand until all permissions are obtained. The natural sand imported from Malaysia, on completion of all formalities with the Customs Department and clearance from plant quarantine authorities, was hitherto lying in the harbour stockyard for which he paid Rs 1,80,00,000 for 7 days and Rs 38,39,347 towards GST, the petitioner said.
Stating that his company is provided with Import and Export Code by the union ministry of commerce, he pointed out that the central government has taken a policy decision to permit import of sand from foreign countries to meet the high demand and control its price rise.