Sand is an important natural resource of our country. Proper use of sand after extraction from the quarry can contribute to economic growth and help in reducing poverty as it can create the employment opportunity to some extent. Realising the monetary benefit of sand mining, Govt. enacted a law titled the Sand Quarry and Soil Management Act in 2010 in order to open the way for exporting the sands. Besides keeping the provision for financial benefit, the law also has prohibited sand quarrying within a kilometer of bridges, culverts, dams, barrages, embankments, highways, rail tracks, residential areas and other important structures. Sand lifting without permission from the authority is also prohibited by this law. But the law has failed to control illegal and excessive sand mining impacting on environment and human life. Several reports in the media show that illegal sand lifting from the rivers has led to widespread damage of agricultural land and residence in the adjacent areas. The holes created by illegal mining obstruct the natural water flow, which causes rivers to realign their banks and threaten embankments, croplands and houses. The sound of dredging machines and sand bearer-trucks has snatched away peaceful nights of many people residing the adjacent place. The illegal acts had been so serious that even the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered suspension of sand lifting and asked to prepare guideline to protect bridges, national highways and roads from illegal lifting of sands from rivers (The Independent, 25 October 2016).But the situation has not improved, rather worsened.
Illegal sand mining is an offence under the Sand Quarry and Soil Management Act, 2010. But that offence is bailable and compoundable! Anyone will be astonished by hearing that, if someone grabs national resource illegally resulting loss of economic benefit of the country and great havoc to environment and human life, he can be freed by compromise! Even if he is arrested for his illegal act, he can roam around freely by availing bail as of rights during the trial! If the wrongdoing is proved, the offender shall be punished with fine ranging fifty thousand to ten lacs taka or with imprisonment of maximum two years or with both. The sand trader who has already earned crore can easily pay the fine even it is lacs. If the punishment is imprisonment, for how long? In the meantime, he can attempt to compromise.
The offence under the law of 2010 is also triable by the mobile court. Reports also show that illegal sand lifting begins after the day of the drive by the mobile court. The situation has become out of control. It is very tough to control the current situation by the existing law. It is high time to amend the law by inserting the provisions for higher punishment, lifting bailable and compoundable provision and overall, making the law more strict. If this law is kept ornamental and as a result, the offenders continue dealing improperly with the nature, the nature will surely punish us, because the nature doesn't have compoundable provision therein!
The writer is working as Assistant Judge in Bangladesh Judicial Service.