Green Tribunal on Mining on the Banks of Ganga

 Introduction

Sand mining has certain important factual developments that it has started bringing litigants for relief before courts. According to the Geological Survey of India (GSI), riverbed mining causes several alterations to the physical characteristics of both a river and riverbed. These can severely impact the ecological equilibrium of a river and damage plants, animals and riparian habitats.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India ruled that approval under the 2006 Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification is needed for all sand mining and gravel collection activities, even if the area being mined is less than 5 hectares (12.5 acres). It also made some critical observations related to environmental impacts of sand mining. Then in May of 2012, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued an order mandating compliance with the Supreme Court’s February 2012 judgment and directing that permissions be sought for all mining activities. These permissions must come from the respective State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAA) constituted under the 2006, EIA notification. However, the article captures further development in light of recent judgment passed by National Green Tribunal on illegal sand mining for State of Uttarakahnd.

Facts of the SAFE Case

Recently, in a matter before the principle bench of the National Green Tribunal Social Action for Environment & Forest vs. Union of India[1] (“SAFE Case”) the sand mining issue was heard and the direction was sought by SAFE acronym for the Applicant herein to disallow mining on the banks of river Ganga against the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) and also against the Government of Uttarakhand and to take sever action against the miners on the basis of ‘polluter must pay principle’. As per the report submitted on record shows illegal mining was being carried out at Haridwar. The case was related to mining going on banks of river Ganga and its tributaries. The photographs have been provided in support of the documents. Mining damages ecology, environment and wildlife movement. The illegal mining and unscientific mining along the riverbeds has been a cause of concern.

The applicant in this case brought to the notice of the Tribunal about the massive illegal mining on the bank of river Ganga. Office Memorandum dated 24.12.2013 clarifies that no environmental clearance would be granted for extraction of minor minerals sand mining from river bed, water body, where the area is less than 5 hectares and mining activity of minor minerals is not permitted in the order dated 28.08.2014. As per the ministry, the mining and picking leases/chugan are granted after taking environmental clearance in private land near Ganga. From time to time, their violations are being dealt by cancelling the lease. The main source of minor mineral in river Ganga is from Sivalik range that is comprised of tertiary rocks like boulders, pebbles and clay.

The question of mining on bed of river Ganga and its tributaries is already settled by the judgment of the tribunal in Enviro-Legal Action vs. National Ganga River Basin Authority[2] the following directions were issued regarding mining on river bed on river Ganga including Haridwar:

(a) The riverbed mining would be carried in highly regulated manner under   strict supervision of the authorities concerned.

 (b) No mechanized river mining would be permitted. No JCBs would be permitted to operate in the river bed.

(c) No suction of minerals would be permitted from river or river beds by  mechanical process like suction pumps.

(d)  The regulated mining would include regulating of seasons of mining which   would be strictly adhered to.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Deepak Kumar vs. State of Haryana[3] noticed that quarrying of river is an important economic activity in the country with river and sand forming, crucial raw material for infrastructure development and for the construction industry. However, such activities can lead to bank erosions. The court observed that mining of minor minerals need similar strict attention as major minerals. Therefore, the mining of minor minerals equally require environmental clearance before operating from MoEF/SEIAA. 1957 Act already empowers the government to frame rules for granting such leases and licenses. The Union government is also empowered to legislate on the subject and State cannot legislate the subject.

The tribunal in the matter found that illegal mining is being carried on in Uttarakhand. The Court in this matter has appointed a committee to inspect the site and find out the extent of illegal mining and assess the losses sustained by environment and ecology and suggest remedial measures.

  • Member Secretary, State Pollution Control Board Uttarakhand
  • Senior Scientist to be nominated by Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun
  • A representative to be nominated by member secretary of CPCB.
  • A senior scientist from Central Soil and Water Conservation Research Training institute, Dehradun
  • Chairman of the Committee would be nominated by Secretary MoEF

The committee is required to submit its report on following parameters within three months:

  • The extent of illegal mining
  • The persons responsible for the act of illegal mining including identification of officers
  • Extent of damage caused to the environment and ecology
  • Remedial measures to restore the damage
  • Modifications of conditions of environmental clearance.
  • Specific measures for environmental leases in wildlife corridoors.

Recent Notification by MoEF

Important recommendations of new notification as put up on Ministry’s website regarding sand mining are:

(i) Decentralization of EC: The Government has announced decentralisation of the process of granting Environmental Clearance for sustainable sand mining and mining of minor minerals headed by District Magistrate or District Collector for mining lease area upto 5ha for individual lease and 25ha in cluster.

(ii) Monitoring Agency: The Ministry has created District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) for proper monitoring of sand mining.

(iii) Information Technology for Mineral Mining Tracking: Information technology and information technology-enabled services will be used to track mined out minerals. The movement of mined out material and sand will be controlled through Transit Permit. The security feature of Transit Permit include, printing on IBA approved MICR paper, Unique Barcode, Unique QR code, Fugitive Ink Background, Invisible Ink Mark, Void Pantograph and Watermark.  Information technology tools such as bar coding and SMS will be used to monitor the mined out material from source to destination.

(iv)  Handling Cases: For the first time the procedure for handling cases of cluster defined and also for one cluster one EIA/EMP and one public hearing to be conducted.

(v) EC of B2 Projects: Four-member District Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) is responsible for grant of environmental clearance for Category ‘B2’ Projects for mining of minor minerals, for all the districts in the country. The Chairperson of DEIAA will be District Magistrate or District Collector and the Member Secretary will be Sub-Divisional Magistrate or Sub-Divisional Officer. The other two members are DFO and Expert to be nominated by Divisional Commissioner.

(vi) Assistance of MoEF: For the purposes of assisting the Authority for the districts, the Ministry has also constituted an eleven Member District Level Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC) for all the districts of the country. The Chairperson of the DEAC will be Executive Engineer, Irrigation Department and Member Secretary will be Assistant Director, or Deputy Director or District Mines Officer or Geologist in the district. The other members will be from Sub-Divisional Officer (Forest); representative of remote sensing department or geology department or state ground water department; occupational health expert or medical officer; engineer from Zila Parishad; State Pollution Control Board or Committee; senior most Assistant Engineer, Public Works Department; and three Experts to be nominated by the Divisional Commissioner.

(vii) Survey Report: Preparation of District Survey Report for sand and river bed mining and mining of other minor minerals are envisaged.

(viii) Simplification: Simple Application Form ‘1M’ envisaged for mining of minor minerals under category ‘B2’ less than 5ha introduced. Simplification and decentralization of EC process has been introduced. Now small project of mining of minor minerals to be dealt at DEIAA/DEAC & SEIAA/SEAC level and larger project at the level of EAC/MoEFCC.

(ix) Exemptions: Certain activities have been exempted from Environment Clearance.  These include –

  • Extraction of ordinary clay or sand, manually, by the Kumhars (Potter) to prepare earthen pots, lamp, toys, etc. as per their customs.
  • Extraction of ordinary clay or sand, manually, by earthen tile makers who prepare earthen tiles.
  • Removal of sand deposits on agricultural field after flood by farmers.
  • Customary extraction of sand and ordinary earth from sources situated in Gram Panchayat for personal use or community work in village.
  • Community works like de-silting of village ponds or tanks, construction of village roads, ponds, ‘bunds’ undertaken in Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment and Guarantee Schemes, other government sponsored schemes, and community efforts.
  • Dredging and de-silting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river, and canals for the purpose of their maintenance, upkeep and disaster management.
  • Digging of well for irrigation or drinking water; and digging of foundation for buildings not requiring prior environmental clearance.
  • Excavation of ordinary earth or clay for plugging of any breach caused in canal, ‘nala’, drain, water body,  etc., to deal with any disaster or flood like situation upon orders of District Collector, or District Magistrate.
  • Activities declared by State Government under legislations or rules as non-mining activity with concurrence of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Conclusions

Mining is happening in all major states in India, however, illegal and unscientific mining is the cause of concern. Ministry has taken several policy initiatives and enacted environmental and pollution control legislations to prevent indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and to promote integration of environmental concerns in developmental projects. It is also important to mention that the amendments in Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, have been notified in the Gazette of India, vide SO No. 141 (E) on 15.01.2016. However, the need of the hour is environmental awakening of stakeholders, as any mess with the nature has long term devastation for generations to bear.

[1] O.A. 117 of 2015

[2] O.A 10 of 2015

[3] SLP NO. (C) 19628-19629 of 2009

Published :
February 25, 2016
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