The three-member committee comprises director in the environment ministry, and another posted in the regional office of the ministry in Lucknow besides a deputy director of mines at the Dehradun office of the Indian Bureau of Mines.
The environment ministry decided to send a team to Uttar Pradesh after the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to PM asking for stronger action to defend officers such as Durga Shakti Nagpal. The 2009 batch IAS officer had been leading a campaign against illegal sand mining mafia in Gautam Budh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, when the government suspended her for allegedly ordering demolition of a mosque wall.
Setting up the committee, the ministry said, that the handling of prior environment clearance cases of mining of minor minerals, including sand, of lease area up to 5 hectare was delegated by the ministry to state authorities after the Supreme Court order of February 2013. It noted that the cases of mining between 5-50 hectares too are handled at the state level and only those above 50 hectares come to the Centre for clearance under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The ministry notification pointed out that no mining of sand can be undertaken without a prior environmental clearance, either from the state or the Centre.
Though the clearances are given either by the ministry at Delhi or the state environment impact assessment authorities the supervision of such mines for environmental impact falls under the purview of the regional office of the environment ministry and the state pollution control boards.
The regional offices are answerable directly the central ministry while the pollution control boards report to state governments.
The ministry in its order said the committee was being set up, “With a view to inquiring into the allegations of illegal sand mining widely reported in the electronic as well as the print media with visuals of heavy machinery being used in illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, in order to ascertain the factual position and with a view to suggesting further court of action in the matter.”