The Tamil Nadu government has passed an order that allows for the detention of public officials suspected of abetting sand smuggling, which is rampant in the state, under the Goondas Act. This includes police officials.
The government action comes months after the Madras High Court issued instructions in May this year, warning public and police officials who abet sand smuggling by taking bribes. In what came as an embarrassing observation for the government, the court noted that sand smuggling would not be possible without the active connivance of government officials.
According to Monday’s Government Order, the state says that it is keen on preventing sand theft and smuggling with effective and prompt action.
“The need of the hour is to maintain the vast fertile eco system of this State in the stable form by curtailing all types of sand smuggling with the services of the Government Officials. In view of the position set out above the Government officials and police officials concerned are bound to prevent such offences,” (sic) the GO reads.
The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982, simply called the Goondas Act, defines a goonda as “a member of or leader of a gang, habitually commits, or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offences.”
Under the Goondas Act, a person may be detained without bail for a period that may extend up to one year. In 2011, the Madras High Court held that a single case was enough to detain a person under the Goondas Act.
The new rule means that officials suspected of abetting sand smuggling will now face departmental disciplinary proceedings as well as penal provisions under the Goondas Act.
In an important observation, the court had interpreted the Act as equally including punishments for those who abet the commission of offences, in addition to those who commit the offence of sand smuggling.
The court had said, “In this regard, there should not be any leniency or misplaced sympathy by the State or by the competent authorities. The Executives/ Police Officials abetting such commission of offence by receiving such “mamools” (bribes) or indulging in corrupt activities are also certainly to be punished under the Act and that is the very spirit of the Act.”
Illegal sand mining has been rampant in Tamil Nadu over the last two to three decades, owing to a boom in the construction sector. South and central Tamil Nadu, where river beds, basins and beaches abound, have become the hotbed of illegal sand mining.
This has led to an alarming decline in groundwater levels and subsequent water scarcity. Police officials involved in investigating illegal sand miners have also been found dead under suspicious circumstances in recent years.