In a major setback for the Tamil Nadu government’s plans to open 70 new river sand quarries, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court on Wednesday ordered the closure of all sand quarries in Tamil Nadu within the next 6 months. The court also said that no new sand quarry should come up in the state. The court asked the state government to consider the import of sand through the state-owned corporation to meet the shortfall.Stating that the order has been passed in the public interest considering the need to protect rivers, environment, and farmers in the state, Justice R Mahadevan also directed the government to monitor illegal transporting of the river sand.Hearing a petition filed by M R M Ramaiya Enterprises Private Limited managing director M R M Ramaiya, seeking court’s intervention to sell sand imported from Malaysia, the judge also directed the Tamil Nadu government to release the Malaysian sand from the Tuticorin port.The court observed that the Tamil Nadu Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 1959 and the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Illegal Mining, Transportation and Storage of Minerals and Mineral Dealers Rules, 2011 cannot be imposed on imported sand since the importer had paid the appropriate tax (GST) on the consignment.The petitioner said she made an agreement with All Works Trading Limited, Singapore, on September 9 last to import one lakh tonne of sand. Accordingly, the petitioner’s company imported sand of the Sungai Pahang river in Kauntan city, Malaysia, to an extent of 55,443 metric tonnes through proper channels and also paid the GST. The sand is at present at the Tuticorin port.When the company wanted to sell the same in the state, the government did not give permission and registered an FIR against it. Hence, the petitioner sought a direction to the Tamil Nadu government not to insist the company to get the licence and to transport and sell the imported sand in the state.The Tamil Nadu government said in their petition that the state police had registered an FIR as the firm had transported the sand without the permit and it could not allow the Malaysian sand either to be sold in Tamil Nadu without the permit or to be transported to Kerala on road.In the order, Justice Mahadevan further directed quarries of granite and other minerals, except jelly, must be closed periodically to maintain ecological balance. The State shall also depute a team of experts from the Geological Department to identify and process the import of sands and minerals from countries which permit export. The government take a decision on the import of the river sand by state-owned corporations to meet out short supply, the court observed.The court also directed the Centre to issue appropriate guidelines specifying the type of sand and its usage so as to enable the importers to get appropriate certificates from the exporter authorities in other countries.Interestingly, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami last week chaired a high-level meeting with eight district collectors and superintendent of police and decided to open 70 new sand quarries to meet the requirement of sand for the construction sector. However, the environmentalists strongly opposed the move to open new sand quarries as it would affect the flow of the river and cause irreparable damage to the environment.
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Madras HC orders closure of all sand quarries in Tamil Nadu to protect rivers