The Supreme Court on Thursday urged the Centre and states to adopt a stern approach against illegal mining, as it called the Madhya Pradesh government supporting the contention of some violators “very surprising”. The apex court took umbrage that the MP government wanted the violators not to face criminal prosecutions only because they had paid monetary fines.
“We are of the opinion that the violators cannot be permitted to go scot free on payment of penalty only. There must be some stringent provisions which may have deterrent effect so that the violators may think twice before committing such offences and before causing damage to the earth and nature,” said a Supreme Court bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan.
Authoring the judgment, Justice MR Shah reminded the State that they are the custodian of mines and minerals in the country, and said they should be more sensitive towards protecting the ecological balance by ensuring stern action against the violators.
It pointed out that although provisions in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR Act) empowered the state to withdraw prosecution for illegal mining after imposing fines, they would do well to acknowledge the growing concern regarding environmental damages and its grave consequences.
The observations came as the top court dismissed a clutch of appeals for quashing as many as 14 FIRs registered in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district against illegal sand mining and their transportation. While the FIR was lodged on a directive from the judicial magistrate concerned, the violators proceeded to settle the charges under the MMDR Act by paying monetary fines. These petitions were dismissed by the high court.
The state government, which had initially supported the magistrate’s order on FIRs, took a U-turn before the Supreme Court and said the prosecution under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for theft and abetting concealment of stolen properties cannot go on after these violators have already settled the case by coughing up fines.
The bench called the state government’s support to the “violators” “very surprising”, and held that the criminal prosecution under the IPC is independent of the settlement proceedings under the MMDR Act.
The court said that even if a state government decides to withdraw cases under the MMDR Act, investigation under the IPC shall go on in accordance with the law.
The bench, therefore, allowed quashing of the charges under Section 23A of the MMDR Act but clarified the prosecution for theft etc will continue in all the 14 FIRs.