Sand mining in Udupi district, Karnataka

Sand mining and removal of sand from sandbars supply India’s growing construction industry, and occur in riverbeds and increasingly in marine and coastal areas. Extraction of sand can have significant adverse environmental and socio-economic impacts, such as loss of bird and fish habitat, ingress of saltwater into wells used for irrigation and drinking water, harm to fisheries, and safety concerns resulting from an influx of migrant workers.

This case involves a 2016 petition to the National Green Tribunal by residents of Baikaday and Kukkude villages in Udupi taluka. The residents sought an order cancelling permits issued by the district administration enabling extraction of sand from rivers in the Udupi taluka, and the Swarna River in particular. The case is complicated and contentious due to the many actors and interests involved. There were political factions for and against the extraction, public protests, police action against protestors, and illegal activities by a “sand mafia”.

The NGT ultimately ruled in favour the villagers, holding that several provisions in union notifications governing sand extraction had not been followed. Preliminary analysis reveals that although the petitioners were successful, they faced several challenges with respect to access to justice, such as securing legal and technical support and accessing enforcement remedies and tools to effect the tribunal’s decision. Regarding the former, their first lawyer withdrew from the case and their second lawyer worked for nominal fees. About the second issue, interview respondents reported that illegal extraction was occurring even after the NGT had ruled on the matter.