HC directs registration of PIL on sand ghat auctions

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 May 2018 09:45:18


Staff Reporter,

Expressing displeasure over non-adherence to sand ghat excavation policy by revenue authorities, Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has directed registration of a public interest litigation (PIL) based on series of judgements quashing auction process of sand ghats for Nagpur, Bhandara and Gondia districts.
A division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice Arun Upadhye, while asking the senior counsel Anand Jaiswal to assist the court as Amicus Curiae, tersely observed that revenue authorities “have failed to honour confidence reposed in them as trustees of public property.”

According to High Court, the sand ghat excavation policy dated January 3, 2018 has prescribed time schedule in which reasonable time has been granted to Tehsildar to draw report after personal inspection and submit it to Sub Divisional Officer. The SDO is then supposed to counter check at random 25% of such sand ghats and District Mining Officer is thereafter expected to check 10% of the sand ghats. However, these checks and measures were not followed, permission of gram sabha was not obtained, the High Court had noted while setting aside auction.

While hearing a petition filed by an unsuccessful bidder Kinza Traders, the High Court noted that extension of time to earlier auction-purchaser was not in consonance with even the old sand ghat policy. The respondent authorities strongly justified the decision stating that these ghats had necessary environmental clearance and out of total 34 ghats, auction could materialize only in relation to four ghats. Hence, to avoid illegal mining and in the interest of public revenue, extension of time in favour of respondent auction purchasers was recommended.

The auction purchaser also objected to petition and claimed that there was some confusion about environmental clearance as appeals were pending with the NGT. The High Court while tracing the entire controversy, earlier round of litigations leading to cancellation of sand ghat auctions, found that decision to extend time to successful bidder was contrary to old policy and instead of insisting on depositing 75 per cent payment within 15 days from the auction, condition was relaxed and quashed the impugned decision. The High Court also directed authorities to forthwith stop mining activities at four sand ghats and to take possession of sand excavated from these ghats.

Senior Counsel Anand Jaiswal and Adv Radhika Bajaj (petitioner-Kinza Traders), AGP Tajwar Khan (State), Adv Ram Parsodkar (Bhandara Collector), Adv Shreerang Bhandarkar (successful bidder) appeared in this matter and now the PIL will be heard on June 6 in which other contentions including refund of money raised by successful bidder will be considered.

It may be recalled that on April 19, the High Court had cancelled auction of over 50 sand ghats in Nagpur, Bhandara and Gondia districts holding that it was contrary to Government resolution dated January 3, 2018. As per new policy, before obtaining Environmental Clearance, it has been made mandatory to prepare a mining plan. Before demarcating and finalizing sand ghat, study of river flow, sedimentation and deposition is must.

The petitioners, Sarpanch and ex-Sarpanch of villages in Saoner, Mouda, Parsheoni, Kamptee, Gondia, Tiroda, Sadak Arjuni, Amgaon, Arjuni Morgaon, Lakhandur, Mohadi, Lakhni, Paoni, Sakoli, Tumsar where sand ghats are situated knocked the doors of the High Court while questioning the auction process and identification of ghat sites despite scanty rainfall. The petitioners claimed that it was contrary to amended sand excavation policy published on March 12, 2017 and due to scanty rainfall excavation sand ghat mining was not feasible. Under clause 3(a) of the amended Sand Excavation Policy, recommendations of the Gram Sabha is mandatory and excavation can be done only when there is sufficient settlement or accumulation of sand in the riverbed after satisfactory rainfall and proper water flow in rivers.

Even during last occasion, the High Court had quashed the process after which new auction process was undertaken on March 4 which was governed by GR dated January 3. The High Court had allowed to auction process but directed not to finalise it during pendency of the petition. After a detailed hearing, the High Court had scrapped the process.