Seasonal Flood- Right to Minerals deposited on Land

India– The issue was whether the appellant could lay claim to the deposits left behind by the fluvial action of the river when the river receded post-flood, since he was the owner of the flooded lands or was otherwise entitled to an unrestricted use of the lands, and therefore would also be entitled to appropriate the deposits to the exclusion of all others.

The Mines and Minerals Department wanted to auction the right to remove the sand and gravel deposited on the appellant’s lands. The appellant opposed the proposed auction, contending that the Government had no right to deal with his property in a manner detrimental to his title.

The court observed that, on equity, prior to the point of time when the flood waters of the river carried the sand and gravel to private lands, the title thereto was vested in the State Government. The rivers, the river beds and the sand and building stones lying in the river water are of State ownership. Nature carries those deposits to lands abutting on rivers and the competent legislation enable the Government to reclaim what it lost without any fault of its own. The sand and gravel deposited by the receding waters of the river are truly a part of the soil of the river bed and therefore belong to the State. The fluvial action of the river carries them to riparian lands but such shifting cannot erase the title of the rightful owner.

The contention was raised that the sand and gravel are deposited on the surface of the land and not under the surface of the soil and therefore they cannot be called minerals and equally so, any operation by which they are collected or gathered cannot properly be called a mining operation.

In response, the Court held that, in the first place, it is wrong to assume that mines and minerals must always be subsoil and that there can be no minerals on the surface of the earth. Such an assumption is contrary to informed experience. In any case, the definition of mining operations and minor minerals in the competent legislation shows that minerals need not be subterranean and that mining operations cover every operation undertaken for the purpose of “winning” any minor mineral. “Winning” does not imply a hazardous or perilous activity. The word simply means “extracting a mineral” and is used generally to indicate any activity by which a mineral is secured. “Extracting”, in turn, means, drawing out or obtaining. A tooth is ‘extracted’ as much as is fruit juice and as much as a mineral. Only, that the effort varies from tooth to tooth, from fruit to fruit and from mineral to mineral.
Please see the following judgment on this topic: Bhagwan Dass v. State of U.P. (Supreme Court of India, 1976)

Author: Vikrant Narayan Vasudeva
Photo by Don Harrison/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0