New Delhi: The environment ministry is working on a sustainable sand mining policy to curb rampant illegal mining in river beds across the country. New rules, to be enforced with the aid of satellite imagery, are expected to be ready by 6 July.

“We are in the process of giving final touches to the sustainable sand mining policy. We will determine which river has abundant sand deposits using satellites and only then we will allow mining there. We will not let the rivers die," said minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar.

Illegal sand mining in India is reported to be worth billions of rupees and has political overtones. It gained national attention in July 2013 when an Indian Administrative Service officer in Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida) was suspended, allegedly at the behest of the sand mafia for acting against them. This was followed by a National Green Tribunal order in August 2013 banning sand mining from river beds without prior environmental clearance.

The new policy will introduce a system of barcodes. “If someone has a licence to mine 10,000 tonnes of sand, we have to ensure that he does not take away 20,000 (tonnes). For this, we will introduce a system of barcode," Javadekar said.

Bardcoded slips will replace exit slips that are currently issued to trucks leaving mines. Barcoded slips will be pre-issued by authorities and these will be scanned at exit points. This data would then be transferred to a remote location so that it is not compromised and extra material taken out of mines. Satellites will be primarily used to select sites where sand mining will be allowed, said environment secretary Ashok Lavasa.

“The whole process will be technology-driven. We will identify geo coordinates of the mining sites and also the amount of sand that can be allowed to taken out of river beds. We will also monitor how much sand is being moved out," Lavasa said.

Environmentalists, however, are sceptical about the move.

“Can satellite and barcodes stop the mafia, which is thriving on astronomical profits from illegal mining that involves minimum risk? The ministry just needs to go on the ground and pass an order that no machines will be used for sand mining. That will solve the problem,"said Manoj Misra, convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, an organization that has been working to clean the Yamuna river for nearly a decade.

Separately, Javadekar said, a zero liquid discharge (ZLD) order was being enforced to help check effluent discharge from industries into rivers.

“We had given directions to 2,800 polluting industries around the country and nearly 50% of the industrial units have complied. The Central Pollution Control Board has already started receiving online data of compliance with respect to effluents and emissions," he said.

A total of 920 industrial units have so far installed 24X7 pollution monitoring devices while another 400 have adopted the ZLD system, according to ministry data. ZLD seeks to eliminate discharge from industrial units and promote recycling and reuse of waste water by industries.

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