Illegal sand mining is rampant along the Đồng Nai River in Đồng Nai Province, causing serious erosion and threatening people's lives. — VNA/VNS Photo Vân Khánh
HCM CITY — A high-ranking city official has demanded stricter punishment for illegal sand mining activities, saying the violation must be considered a crime.
Nguyễn Thành Phong, chairman of the HCM City People’s Committee, has urged local units to work closely with agencies in neighbouring provinces to prevent further violations.
Phong spoke at a meeting held last Friday to seek solutions to fight sand mining in Cần Giờ waters and the city’s bordering provinces.
Illegal sand mining near Cần Giờ has reached an alarming level, he said. “The number of violations has been on the rise every year, jumping from only 12 in 2015 to 121 last year."
“Illegal mining has polluted the environment and caused erosion, threatening the lives of locals," he said, adding that supervision remains weak and violators have become more creative.
Most sand mining is conducted at night. If caught, miners frequently submerge their barges or flee, he said.
In many cases, members of the police force have been assaulted by miners.
Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mỹ, deputy director of the city’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment, proposed that the city establish a specialised working group to handle the violations.
Lê Minh Dũng, chairman of Cần Giờ District People’s Committee, said that a loophole in the regulations stipulates that 50 cubic metres or more of mined sand would be confiscated. “It’s very difficult to catch them as aggressive sand miners will run away and discharge sand into the sea when caught."
The miners are also abusing the law, he said. For example, they hire vehicles of other owners in the name of carrying goods. When caught, they just run away and the owner of the vehicle never admits the crime.
He recommended amending the regulation to stipulate that 10 cubic metres of illegal sand transported by vehicles, rather than the current 50 cubic metres, must be confiscated.
Phan Anh Minh, deputy head of the HCM City Police, said that lax management by agencies had contributed to the increase in illegal sand mining.
He said that official agencies had only focused on deterring violations by individuals instead of enterprises.
Sand mining enterprises that hire barges for individuals who they know conduct illegal mining must be held responsible for the decision, Minh said.
Colonel Tô Danh Út, head of the city’s Border Guard Command, said that co-operation between HCM City and surrounding localities in tackling illegal sand mining remained ineffective.
Phong, chairman of the People’s Committee, urged the implementation of a project to combat illegal sand mining in Cần Giờ waterways and the area between the city and surrounding provinces. He said that a conference about the problem should be held as soon as possible by HCM City and neighbouring provinces.
Speaking at a meeting in April in Cần Giờ, Trần Vĩnh Tuyến, vice chairman of the People’s Committee, called for investment in new materials that could replace sand used in some construction projects.
In a related issue, Nguyễn Thiện Nhân, secretary of the HCM City Party Committee, has approved a proposal to establish mobile inspection stations to deter rampant illegal sand mining cases in Cần Giờ Sea.
“The city should establish an interdisciplinary team to improve inspections and handling of illegal sand mining and review the project’s results every year,” he said.
Nhân also asked the People's Committee to propose amendments to regulations in a Government decree which sets administrative penalties in the field of water and mineral resources.
“Heavier penalties should be added to curb illegal activities,” he said.
Since the beginning of this year, HCM City Police have detected 24 illegal sand mining cases and 22 sand-mining vehicles, and fined 38 miners who were using sand pumps on waterways.
The city seized about 1,800 cubic metres of sand, and handed out nearly VNĐ80 million (US$3,400) in fines.
In addition, the city's Border Guard Command found 35 cases of illegal sand mining with 53 vehicles, confiscated 3,500 cubic metres of sand, and fined violators a total of more than VNĐ700 million ($300,100).
In 2015, the city discovered 17 cases of illegal sand mining and seized the sand.
Last year, the number of cases increased to 121, and the city seized 7,198 illegal sand-mining vehicles. — VNS