Stage set for private sand mining

HC directs govt to consider 29 applications pending before it seeking permission

KOCHI: A division bench of Kerala High Court has dismissed the appeal filed by the state government challenging a single bench order permitting the private sector to undertake mineral sand mining in the state.

The bench comprising Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Mathew P. Joseph directed the state government to consider the 29 applications pending before it from the private sector and joint sector companies seeking permission for mineral sand mining.

Mineral sand deposits in the coast of Kollam and Alapuzha districts containing Ilmenite, Rutile, Monazite, Zircon and Sillamanite and estimated to be worth several billions of rupees has been eyed by private sector for many years.

The state government owned Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd and the central public sector Indian Rare Earths Ltd are the only companies now permitted to mine mineral sands.

The Cochin Minerals and Rutile Ltd, headed by S.N. Sasidharan Kartha, is one of the major private firms angling for mining rights in the region for quite sometimes.

The division bench stated that since mining is a subject coming under the purview of the central government, the state government has no power to exclude private companies from the sector.

The court also pointed out that the central government is for allowing private and joint sector companies in the mining sector and that the policy of the state government is against the central government policy.

The court also mentioned that although the delay in filing the appeal by the state government itself was enough to dismiss the appeal, it had not done so in view of the facts in the application and the validity of the order of the single bench.

The state government had filed the appeal against the single bench order after a delay of one-and-a-half years.

The verdict of the division bench is likely to snowball into a political controversy in the state with a slew of green activists and a section of political leaders opposing the entry of private sector in mineral sand mining due to environmental hazards.

KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran is one of the vociferous critics of the private sector entry into mineral sand mining.

State Labour Minister and Shibu Baby John told reporters that the government would file an appeal against the HC verdict in the Supreme Court.

CPM politburo member M.A. Baby said that he suspected ‘collusion’ between the state government and the private sector in mineral sand mining.

Mr Harish Vasudevan, a green activist, said that the state government could still prevent the private players in the sector as mining could be undertaken only after getting environment clearances.

“The question is whether the government has the will for that,” he said and added that even the public sector Indian Rare Earths Ltd had not received the permission for the second phase of expansion.

The coastal regions of Kollam and Alapuzha districts in the state are allegedly facing a series of environmental hazards which included erosion of the coast and high levels of radiation.

The entry of private sector is likely to destroy the public sector Indian Rare Earths engaged in mining of minerals, said Mr P.K. Rao, an official of the company.

( Source : dc correspondent )
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