NGT Stays Environment Ministry’s Notifications Permitting District Committees To Grant Environmental Clearances For Mineral Mining [Read Order]

NGT Stays Environment Ministry’s Notifications Permitting District Committees To Grant Environmental Clearances For Mineral Mining [Read Order]

It has directed the ministry to issue a fresh notification and furnish report of compliance with its order dated Sept. 13, 2018, on or before Dec. 31

Holding that officers of the District Expert Appraisal Committees (DEACs) have no expertise or scientific knowledge to assess environmental implications, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has stayed the notifications issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) allowing the panel to assess ecological impacts and permitting the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) to grant Environmental Clearances.

A bench headed by Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel held that the notifications issued by the ministry were inconsistent with the mandate of the Supreme Court’s directions passed in Deepak Kumar Vs State of Haryana And Ors., requiring proper Environmental Clearance before the grant of lease of minor minerals, including sand mining.

The bench, also consisting of Judicial Member K. Ramakrishna and Expert Member Dr. Nagin Nanda, held further that the notifications permitting the DEACs to make assessments were also not consistent with the Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines, 2016.

The tribunal directed the Environment Ministry to comply with its order passed on September 13, 2018 and furnish compliance report on or before December 31, 2018, failing which, it said, it might have to take coercive measures.

The green court passed the order on an Execution Application filed by Vikrant Tongad, an environmental activist, who alleged non-compliance of the tribunal’s judgment of September 13, 2018. The petitioner claimed that the notifications issued by the Environment Ministry on January 15, 2016, and, subsequently, on January 20, 2016, diluted the requirement of environmental impact assessment and appraisal of mining of minor minerals. He submitted that the inadequacy in the composition of DEIAAs and DEACs would affect the community at large as laid under Section 2(1)(m)(i)(A) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

The application claimed that apart from violating the Deepak Kumar judgment that made environmental clearances mandatory even for leases of areas less than five hectares, the two notifications were in non-conformity with the tribunal’s directions that, inter alia, directed, “The MOEFF&CC shall, therefore, take appropriate steps to revise the procedure laid down in the impugned Notification, dated 15th January, 2016, in terms of the above directions and observations so that it is in conformity with the letter and spirit of the directions passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Deepak Kumar (supra)”.

Citing 20 mining projects that were granted environmental clearances across Rajasthan, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu by the DEIAAs and DEACs subsequent to the tribunal’s September 13, 2018 order, the petition sought cancellation of all clearances granted by the district-level committees pursuant to the tribunal’s orders and prayed against any further grant of ECs by the district-level committees and halt of all meetings held by them, besides penal action on the MOEF&CC for violating the green court’s directions.

Appearing for the applicant, Advocate Rahul Choudhary, submitted, “Despite that the notifications were held illegal and having found to be violative of the directions passed by the tribunal as well as the Supreme Court’s judgment, the ministry was allowing the states to delegate the task of undertaking environmental assessment to the DEIAAs and DEACs.”

“Instead of seeking clarifications on the order from tribunal, the State Environmental Impact Assessment Committees (SEIAAs) of states like Kerala were issuing letters to the district environment committees allowing them to grant ecological clearances on the plea that the January 15, 2016 notification has not been stayed,” Choudhary advanced.

“…we direct the MOEF&CC to comply with the order dated 13.09.2018 forthwith and submit a report of compliance on or before 31.12.2018 failing which coercive measures may have to be taken. We also make it clear that till a fresh Notification is issued by the MOEF&CC, Notification, dated 15.01.2016 will not be acted upon,” the order, delivered on Tuesday, stated.

 In relation to the latter issued by Kerala SEIAA, the tribunal observed, “This interpretation is clearly contrary to the order of this Tribunal disapproving the Notification dated 15.01.2016 and requiring the same to be revised. The direction that 15.01.2016 should still be acted upon is clearly illegal and in violation of judgment of this Tribunal. The same will stand suspended till a fresh Notification is issued by the MOEFF&CC as directed hereinabove.”

“The direction will apply to all the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities/State Governments,” the NGT held while asking for the compliance report to be placed before it on January 14.

Read the Order Here