Soil mining curbs put brakes on road projects worth over Rs 50,000 cr

FP

A court-ordered clampdown on mining sand, soil and gravel is beginning to hurt the construction business and infrastructure projects such as roads and highways.

According to industry estimates, at least 70 highway projects estimated to be worth over Rs 50,000 crore are stuck due to delays in Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) clearances that have been made mandatory to mine common soil, resulting in developers not being able to start basic foundation work.

The impact of last year's Supreme Court order making environmental impact assessment (EIA) compulsory for mining "minor minerals", including sand, gravel, clay, marble and stones, irrespective of the size of the lease area, is taking a pan-India hue.

Bihar and Karnataka are among the worst hit in terms of work on road sections being held up. In Maharashtra, mining at sand ghats has virtually come to a halt, leading to an acute shortage that has forced builders to delay construction projects. In Punjab, the restriction on quarrying earth has led to a spike in brick prices, even as traders are reportedly trying to import sand from Pakistan in a desperate bid to overcome shortages.

In Kerala, industry bodies such as the Registered Crusher Owners Association have approached the apex court seeking a state-specific exemption while the Andhra Pradesh government has imposed a new allotment system of sand mining leases through a lottery.

Before the Supreme Court order, only mining of major minerals needed the EIA under the Environment Protection Act of 1986. The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act of 1957 empowers state governments to make rules for minor minerals. But the February 27, 2012 SC order stipulated that leases of minor minerals, including their renewal for an area of less than 5 hectares, can be granted by states only after getting MoEF clearances.

Besides Bihar, highway projects in Punjab, Haryana, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Rajasthan have also been reportedly hurt by the restrictions. As approvals to mine common soil, which follows the first set of environment clearances for the overall project, are pending for an extended period of time, highway projects are stuck.

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