Three years after the apex court ordered Centre to formulate fresh guidelines on mining minor minerals such as sand the union environment and forest ministry notified the new guidelines last week, devolving the powers of clearances to district level authorities. As per the new guidelines, district level environment impact assessment authorities will handle clearances for all mining leases below five hectares and there will be strict monitoring of illegal mining based on digital monitoring. With the help of unique barcodes, SMS permits and quick response (QR) codes, the Centre has asked sought stringent enforcement of the new guidelines.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Centre’s guidelines were largely based on a model followed first initiated by the Solapur district administration in 2013 known as the ‘Sand mining approval and tracking system’ (SMAT). Faced with rising instances of violent attacks on the district administration from the sand mafia the Solapur district administration initiated the digital monitoring system, reining in illegal mining and also recording a windfall gains in revenue collection.According to data from the union environment ministry and Solapur district administration, there was a massive revenue increase of Rs.50 crores in the 2013-14 financial year due to e-auctioning, spike in fines and fool proof monitoring.In 2012-13, the district collected a revenue of Rs.22 crores from auctioning and penalties while in 2013-14, the figure from auctions and penalties stood at Rs.78 crores. The new policy also saw 425 first information reports being filed against sand mining cartels in the 2013-14.In 2015, former Solapur collector Praveen Gedam had even made a special presentation on the SMAT policy to union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and the ministry’s senior bureaucrats.Earlier, illegal sand mining was rampant as sand excavation happened from sand beds that were no auctioned off. Once sand was mined illegally over and above the permitted quantity, the truck drivers produced forged receipts and even used them multiple times. To tackle this, the Solapur district administration brought in a system of e-tenders, e-auctions and digital monitoring. Bidders were asked to mandatorily bid for contiguous sand beds, preventing them from excavating sand illegally. The administration also established control rooms at sand ghats, brought in sms based transport permits, a new online software – mahamining.com for multilayered tracking of sand and closed circuit television cameras (CCTV).”Use of technology alone was not enough. We had to be ruthless in our enforcement of the new tracking system to hurt the sand mafia economically,” said Praveen Gedam, former district collector of Solapur and currently commissioner of Nashik municipal corporation.

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Behind Centre’s new sand mining policy, a Solapur model