By Marcellus D’Souza
Apr 26: Justice M S Sonak and Justice R N Laddha of the Bombay High Court at Goa directed the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP), to file affidavits by May 2, in the matter concerning illegal sand mining continuing unabated in Goa’s Pernem area.
In a contempt petition filed by the Goa Rivers and Sand Protectors Network (GRSPN), the court observed: “At least, prima facie, we think that this is a serious matter, because, instances are on the rise to defy not only court orders but to unauthorisedly extract sand, thereby causing environmental degradation. From the rise in such instances, we get an impression, which we sincerely hope is wrong, that the authorities are not seriously interested in controlling this activity of unauthorised sand extraction. There is virtually a game of hide-and-seek going on and the impression that we get is that the authorities are not doing enough to prevent it.”
Norma Alvares, counsel for GRSPN told the court that on April 10 and April 18, illegal sand mining was carried out at night and there were about 50-60 canoes engaged in the activity in Tiracol River in Uguem village of Pernem on the night of April 10. On April 18, Alvares said, the illegal activity was carried out using 22 canoes.
Vinayak Mahale, member of the GRSPN and a resident of Uguem, in his affidavit, said “that around 11.30 pm on April 10, there were 12-15 labourers on each of the 50-60 canoes engaged in illegal mining. He said sand mining in Uguem was a routine with extraction taking place between 11 pm and 6 am.”
“…The rampant sand mining taking place for a long time has led to the sinking of the Tiracol bed from around 60 metre to 160 metre. I say that coconut, mango and other plantations and farms of local villagers have been severely affected due to the land sliding that has occurred as a consequence of the illegal sand mining in Uguem,” the affidavit said.
The Court observed: “Besides, we wonder how 50 to 60 canoes can be involved in such an activity, and yet the police authorities and the mamlatdar claim virtual ignorance of what is happening at these sites. There is record that on both these occasions, complaints were filed to the Pernem police station and to the mamlatdar, urging action”.
The court asked the officials to explain, “As to why despite all the mechanisms they claim they have put in place, such incidents continue unabated”. “The onus cannot be put entirely on activists or environmentalists to point out such incidents many a times, at the cost of risk to themselves and only thereafter, some modicum of action is reported. It is the duty of the state to prevent such activity in terms of the law,” the judges observed.
Recently, Uguem villagers threatened to block the National Highway 66 at Uguem if the government failed to stop the illegal sand extraction activity in the jurisdiction of Tamboxem-Mopa-Uguem Village Panchayat.
A delegation of farmers submitted a memorandum at Pernem Police Station demanding action against illegal sand mining activities in Uguem village. This is the second memorandum that the farmers have submitted within a week, wherein they have highlighted that even after giving live proof of sand extraction activities in Tiracol River, the police failed to act.
A villager Uday Mahale said, “Similar to last week, on Sunday night again, we noticed 22 canoes carrying extracted sand. We immediately informed the Costal Police about it. Acting on the same, the Coastal Police rushed to the site. However, they came by road instead of coming by boat due to which they were unable to act or seized the canoes with sand.”
The locals also said that they are not against sand mining in Tiracol River but only pertaining to the river stretch right from Railway Bridge to Uguem.
“We are not against sand mining but concerned about this particular stretch since due to continuous sand mining for the last 25 years, the Uguem villagers are getting affected badly as their agriculture land gets submerged in river water. While increase in depth of the river, it is posing danger to the railway bridge at Porascadem,” Narayan Mahale said.
Swapnil Sherlekar of Goencho Awaz, who was also present with the farmers while submitting the memorandum said, “The matter is in the court. So when the court asks for statement from the concerned department officials they show ignorance about sand extraction activities. Due to this, last month, on March 17, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) had issued a standing order to the police that as soon as the police receive a complaint, they should act. In one week, two such incidents are bought before the office of Pernem Police Station.”
“Time and again we have asked for patrolling in the river because if the police show their presence in the river with a boat, then these activities will be stopped. We will produce these two letters in the court. We expect that an action will be initiated in this matter,” Sherlekar said.
The matter was heard on April 19 and strictures were passed.