Tribunal at its own motion v. Ministry of Environment & Forests
Side A: Tribunal at its own motion (Government)
Side B: Ministry of Environment & Forests (Government)
Challenge to the pollution impacts of a mine operation.
In the Bhopal edition of daily newspaper 'Times of India' dated 10 April 2013, a news item was published on the front page under the caption "Dolomite mining a threat to Tiger corridor in Kanha - Foresters want ban on mining in Mandla District". Considering the gravity of the news item suo-motu cognizance was taken by this tribunal and notice was issued to the Respondent Nos. 1 to 6 on 10th April, 2013 with a direction to place on record the particulars of Mining Leases (in short 'ML') mentioned in the news item. In response to the above notice, the Respondent No.5, Madhya Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (in short 'MPPCB') submitted reply dated 29th April, 2013 stating that the officials of the MPPCB inspected the Dolomite mines in Mandla District and monitored the Ambient Air Quality (in short 'AAQ') in different locations where Consent to Operate the mines was granted to 36 ML holders. Out of 36 mines, 26 mines are having valid Consent to Operate and during the inspection, they were found to be under operation. Of the remaining 10 mines for which Consent to operate has expired, it was found that two mines are still under operation which is irregular and eight mines are closed. Therefore, show cause notice was issued for closure of the aforesaid two mines. With regard to AAQ it is reported that the standards are within the permissible limits and no pollution is observed. However, not satisfied with the above reply of the MPPCB, during the hearing of the case on 1 May 2013 this Tribunal directed the MPPCB to furnish full particulars of all the Dolomite mines in Mandla District. After considering the arguments of both the parties the Tribunal directed that a meeting be convened immediately at the highest level under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary to the Government of Madhya Pradesh involving the officials of the State Forest Department, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Officer in-charge of Regional Office, MoEF, Bhopal, Principal Secretaries, Environment and Mines and Minerals, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Chairman, State Pollution Control Board, Madhya Pradesh, District Collector, Mandla and examine and take following actions in accordance with law duly fixing a time limit for each of the issues to be taken up and completed with promptitude by the authorities concerned. i.) Necessary penal action shall be initiated against those ML holders who were found violating the provisions of Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 as well as the ML conditions and Forest Act and even revoking their license if repeatedly found violating the provisions of law. ii.) Though, ML area of most of the mines is limited and below 5 hectares, they are located in clusters in the limits of discussed 6 villages. Heavy human activity in these clusters involving high concentration of labour, deployment of machinery, movement of trucks to and from the mine sites shall definitely have a cumulative impact. Therefore, it may be examined whether these mines require cumulative Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study and then only granting EC under cluster approach as envisaged in EIA Notification, 2006 and amendments made therein from time to time and in accordance with guidelines issued by the MoEF from time to time. In the meanwhile, movement of vehicles and mining activities shall be regulated in consultation with the Forest Department to not disturb the wildlife in the area. iii.) The reply filed on behalf of the State Govt. functionaries reveal that there is no coordination between the Mining and Forest Departments at least in case of those mines which are located in the Forest area and which are in close proximity to the forest boundary. In the reply filed on behalf of the Respondents No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 it was stated that the local Forest officials have expressed their deep concern pertaining to the mines sanctioned in the Reserved Forest and mine operators are required to obtain transit passes from the Forest Department. It was also stated that the ML conditions are not informed to the Forest Department and the ML holders are also reluctant to provide the information to the Forest Department. There is a need to put full stop to this state of affairs and streamline the entire procedure of sanctioning & operating the mines. The Government should evolve a suitable mechanism to avoid such conflicting situation and ensure coordination among all the law-enforcing authorities in the state. iv.) The irregularities pointed in the reply filed by the Regional Office, MoE F shall be taken up seriously and all the mines found violating the provisions & ML conditions as well as Environmental laws should be dealt with seriously in accordance with law. v.) Keeping in view the concern expressed by the NTCA in their affidavit dated 25.02.2014 dealt herein, all the necessary caution needs to be taken before reviewing the existing MLs and granting / renewing EC and also before granting the Consent to Operate the mines. vi.) Even though the mines are under operation for a long period, it is surprising to note that such grave irregularities have been noticed only during the inspection of mines by the officials of the Regional Office, MoEF that too after the case was taken up suo motu by this Tribunal and no record was placed before us to the effect that any severe action has been taken against the defaulting ML holders. The Chief Secretary shall get the whole issue enquired and initiate action against the erring officials if it is found that they indulged in dereliction of duty by allowing the mines to continue to operate violating the law. vii.) With regard to those mines which are located on the boundary of the notified forest itself the issue may be examined in details and action may be taken to revoke their license in accordance with law, if no such provision of granting MLs touching the notified forest boundary, exists. With the above directions, Tribunal disposed of this Application. To ensure compliance of the order, it was directed that the matter be listed in the Court on 31 July 2014.