By Jyotiraj Patra
The recently legislated Odisha Sand Policy, 2021 is a significant policy decision of the Government of Odisha which paves pathway to more sustainable sand governance in the state and a role model for other states.
The Odisha Cabinet, headed by hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik, approved the much-awaited Odisha Sand Policy, 2021 on 3rd September 2021. The core policy proposal and vision are reflected in the official resolution of the Odisha government’s Revenue and Disaster Management Department (02 Sept 2021):
The Odisha Sand Policy, 2021 proposes to systematize the process chain of river sand mining so as to ensure scientific and sustainable sand mining and to meet the requirement of the river sand.
This policy and the measures identified in this is a pathway to a more sustainable sand governance in the state. The policy will also ensure adequate supply of sand for developmental projects, promote more environmentally sound sand mining practices and curb illegal sand mining through IT-based monitoring systems.
The very nomenclature of the policy as Sand Policy rather than the standard Sand Mining Policy spells out the government’s intention to focus more on the sustainable governance of this critical natural resource through more innovative and inclusive governance measures. The policy also seems to be guided by, and rooted in, the state’s 5T governance innovation (transparency, teamwork, technology, timeliness, and transformation).
An analysis of the policy objectives and the proposed implementation plans shows this policy is more integrated and forward-looking in its framing as it takes in to account all the three sustainability dimensions of ecological, social and economic in to account. With such an integrated framing, coupled with a strong focus on the use of scientific methods in sand mining and monitoring, the policy provides clear pathways for sustainable sand mining in the state and also an inspiration for other states in the country.
Sand, with an estimated 50 billion tons of extraction annually, is the planet’s most extracted mineral. The ever-increasing demand for sand, mostly linked to rapid urbanization and required infrastructure development, has been fueling large-scale unsustainable sand mining practices worldwide. The resulting environmental, social and economic impacts from such unsustainable sand mining have far-reaching implications. The Sand and Sustainability report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2019) identified sand mining as a ‘major sustainability challenges of the 21st century’. In addition, mineral extraction and construction are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and a contributor to climate change.
India is one of the critical sand mining hotspots. Illegal, uncontrolled and unscientific sand mining in the country’s rivers, streams and coasts have led to large scale destruction of the local environment, threatened livelihoods, led to riverbank erosion and also pose great threats to lives of local activists and environment defenders, including journalists, who report on such illegal sand mining.
In India, sand is classified as a minor mineral (MMDR Act, 1957 (clause (e) of Section 3) and state governments have the power to make rules for such minor minerals. Many of the national level policies and frameworks, such as the Sustainable Sand Mining and Management Guidelines 2016v, Sand Mining Framework 2018 and the Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining (EMGSM) 2020 provide guidelines for sustainable sand mining.
In addition to these policy instruments, regular judiciary interventions, such as those from the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), direct the centre and the states to improve the monitoring and tackling of illegal sand mining. For example, in 2019 the Supreme Court issued notice to the centre, five states (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over rampant illegal sand mining. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, questioning the granting of environmental clearances for sand mining, slammed the Government of Rajasthan for “free-for-all loot of this valuable natural resource”.
In Odisha, such court interventions and directives on illegal sand mining are frequently reported in the media. For example, last month the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered for immediate halt to illegal sand mining activities in the Brahmani river in Jajapur district and directed the state government to constitute an expert committee to assess within a month the environmental damages caused due to such illegal sand mining. While demand for sand in the state is soaring, according to government estimates, the availability has also increased. The annual availability of sand for mining in Odisha has increased to 1,12,35,392 cubic meters. The state recorded a 124% revenue growth in sand mining in 2019-2020. While more than 640 sources, out of the total identified sand sairat sources to 1859, have been auctioned, illegal sand mining and violations of existing mining guidelines and other environmental regulations are reported from many of the state’s river systems. Some of the major river systems like Mahanadi, Baitarani, Bramhani, Rusikulya and Subarnarekha have become hotbeds for illegal and uncontrolled sand mining.
Illegal sand quarrying has been a major concern for the state government. To monitor these through administrative majors, the Revenue and Disaster Management Department (RDDM) has been issuing various orders from time to time. For example, the Guidelines for regulating sand quarrying in the State (26 April 2019) laid down a series of steps to streamline sand quarrying and prevent illegal sand lifting in the state. Among others, it emphasized on the preparation of mining plans and due Environmental Clearance (EC) approvals from the competent authorities such as the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).
The Odisha Sand Policy, 2021, builds on some of these past measures and aims to tackle such rampant unscientific, illegal and unsustainable sand mining in the state through a more innovative and integrated policy.
Innovation and cross-sectoral integration, which is key in the analysis of a complex and multi-layered issue like sand mining and its impacts, are the corner stone of this policy.
It has systematically identified the key economic drivers underpinning sand demand, the environmental processes which are key to a healthy river and sustainable source, and the need to protect the rights of citizens to clean and safe environment. In addition, use of scientific methods such as Differential Global Positioning Systems (DGPS) in source assessment and real-time monitoring of extraction and enforcement through the i4-MS software and the Mining Surveillance System (MSS) will bring in more efficiency, transparency and accountability in the overall governance of sand resources in the state. Since many of the river systems where sand mining takes place, such as Subernerakha and Mahandi, are inter-state in nature, the proposed initiatives of scientific monitoring of sand mining and transport will improve inter-state coordination and help develop basin-wide sustainable sand mining guidelines, aligned with the Integrated Water Resources Development and Management Guidelines (2016) of the Central Water Commission.
Mining and its impacts span different sectors and political boundaries and hence the need for more cross-sectoral, inter-departmental and inter-state coordination and collaboration. The policy proposes more inter-departmental coordination involving the Revenue and Disaster Management, Water Resources Department, the Odisha Space Application Centre (ORSAC), Forest and Environment and research institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs). The proposed river audits, which will involve many of these departments, will provide new evidence on ways uncontrolled and unsustainable sand mining, including use of mechanical suction methods and blasting, is leading to riverbank instability and erosion, which in turn result in loss of productive agricultural lands, damage to critical infrastructure and forced displacement of communities in many instances. The policy bans such destructive practices of mechanical suction and blasting.
A laudable step in the new policy is the establishment of Customer Grievance Redressal Centers for sand consumers and recognition of local communities’ rights to a safe and clean environment. One of the policy objective is:
To protect the environment and the right of the population to live in clean and safe surroundings, with the need to use natural resources in a way that will make a positive and sustainable contribution to the economy’.
Informed sand consumers could play an active role in ensuring sustainable sand mining by demanding more information on the sand source and mining process. Sand is a strong forensic marker and it could be traced and tracked from its extraction to construction and use. Such a consumer-centric facility could also help build new avenues of dialogue among mining contractors, local communities, government agencies, scientific community and investors to collectively address sand mining issues and work towards sustainable sand governance systems.
The policy’s rights-based approach to a clean and safe surrounding aligns well with the findings and recommendation of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (UN, 2018 A/73/188). This will provide more spaces and voices for local communities, whose food, water and energy needs and overall livelihood security is dependent on a healthy river ecosystems, to participate in the sand mining decision-making process and for active engagement in the proposed periodic river audits. In addition to ecosystem protection, other issues such as pollution and its health impacts, safety of mine workers, use of forced labor, including child labor and right to information could be addressed. With proper implementation of the policy guidelines, more trust, openness, fairness and responsiveness, including welfare of the project affected communities, as outlined in the National Mineral Policy (2019), could be improved.
The Odisha Sand Policy, 2021 is a timely policy measure of the state government which also paves pathway to sustainable sand governance. Given the inter-state nature of sand mining and its use and trade, this state-level policy will also initiate more inter-state dialogues and in due course could also promote an eastern-regional cooperation framework on sand sustainability.
(Jyotiraj Patra is a Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) Fellow and a sustainability practitioner. Views expressed are personal)