Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (August 10-14, 2020)

Down To Earth brings you the top environmental cases heard in the Supreme Court, the high courts and the National Green Tribunal through the week

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 15 August 2020

Environmental compensation for polluting Ganga

Bihar, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are yet to deposit the environmental compensation (EC) imposed on them by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for their failure to complete sewage treatment projects over the Ganga.

Its calculation for Jharkhand was revised to zero, two out of a total of six drains were tapped. Interim measures were adopted for the remaining four drains. This was stated in a status report filed by the CPCB August 11, 2020 before the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

There should be timely completion of projects related to sewage treatment by June 31, with respect to ongoing projects, the NGT said in its December 12, 2019 order. This must be done by December 31 with respect to other projects, failing which compensation must be paid, the court said.

Till then, to avoid untreated sewage being discharged directly into the Ganga, interim remedial measures needed to be adopted. Any defaults after November 1, 2019, meant compensation was to be deposited.

The CPCB filed a compliance report June 23 with fresh calculations of the EC amount for defaulting drains.

In continuation to the compliance report, it was mentioned the West Bengal State National Ganga River Basin Authority Management Group through a July 8 letter informed the CPCB of the calculated EC amount to be Rs 20 lakh (between November 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020) because a defaulting drain (Jangipur) was transferred to the CPCB account June 26. 

Mining in Sariska Tiger Reserve

The NGT August 10 directed the constitution of a joint committee to look into illegal mining at the tiger reserve in Rajasthan’s Alwar district.

The committee will consist of officials from the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board, the Alwar district magistrate and Rajasthan’s principal chief conservator of forests (head of forest force).

A report must be filed before the NGT within two months, giving the estimate of illegal mining, the number of mines sanctioned in the area and a regulatory mechanism to check illegal mining in the eco-sensitive area.

The order came after a July 27 media report alleged the mowing down of a forest home guard by a tractor was carried out allegedly by the suspected mining mafia inside the Sariska reserve after the guard attempted to stop them along with a colleague.

The newspaper report said the reserve was spread across 1,281 square kilometres and was divided into six ranges. There were 108 forest guards, less than the sanctioned strength of 132.

With the menace of frequent attacks in Sariska over illegal mining and grazing among others, unarmed forest guards often struggled to protect the area. This was not the first time villagers attacked forest officials.

The tribunal said it hoped Rajasthan would monitor the enforcement of law at an appropriate higher level and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will coordinate with the concerned state authorities.

“To maintain the morale of the guards and other enforcement officials and to uphold the rule of law, the family of the deceased ought to be suitably rehabilitated and police machinery must ensure that guilty is apprehended expeditiously and brought to justice,” the order said.

Illegal mining in tiger reserve must be strictly dealt with, it added.

Asbestos mines in Chaibasa

A report filed by the Jharkhand government before the NGT listed steps taken for the restoration of the area under the Roro asbestos mines in Chaibasa, West Singhbhum district.

The lease for such mines was in favour of Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Product Ltd. The mines stopped working in 1983. Safety measures for the restitution of mines to mitigate adverse environmental and health impact in the area, however, were not taken.

Asbestos dust-based pollution continued to be emitted, resulting in health hazards and the contamination of ponds and streams.

The tribunal was informed by Jharkhand that several schemes related to reclamation and rehabilitation of abandoned asbestos mines at Roro village were taken. These included the construction of a water tower in Mundasai at Roro village, within Bada Lagiya panchayat. Health check-ups — with a preliminary screening at the cost of Rs 150,000 — of 565 local residents was conducted.

Symptoms of asbestosis disease were found in 164 of 565 local residents. X-ray tests were conducted for 126 of the 164 local residents.

Illegal sand mining in India

An oversight committee headed by Justice SVS Rathore filed its report August 13 before the NGT on illegal sand mining. The committee was entrusted to look into sand mining in Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The committee recommended the careful preparation of district survey reports that must be based on physical surveys and replenishment studies. Since sand deposition was a dynamic issue, they must be updated regularly.

While awarding lease deeds, important environmental parameters like deposition and replenishment of sand, areas of erosion and distance from infrastructural structures need to be considered. There must be a mechanism to ensure actual mining activity conforms to the approved mining plan and the approved Environment Management Plan.

There has to be a system of annual mandatory environmental audit by experts apart from the statutory system of departmental inspections.

There should be an effective mechanism for restoration of environment in case of its degradation due to mining as well. A portion of the royalty can be reserved for it as an environment restoration fund.

Storage godowns must be at least five km away from the river bank. Illegal mining can, otherwise, be carried out under the garb of storage by the leaseholder himself, the report said.

Controlling air pollution in Delhi-NCR

The Supreme Court (SC) August 10 said challans and imposition of fines on vehicles using kerosene was insufficient. The apex court was hearing an application on steps to control air pollution in Delhi.

The SC also took up the issue of Delhi’s parking policy. The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) said pilot projects in Kamla Nagar, Krishna Nagar and Lajpat Nagar worked satisfactorily.

The court directed the five corporations of Delhi to work in collaboration with the EPCA and authorities concerned to form a detailed plan. It will be good for a parking policy to be finalised before August 20, 2020, the court said.

In the same order, the apex court directed the municipal corporations of Rajasthan to file an affidavit on the amount of biomedical waste collected from the homes of quarantined people.

The report should also carry information on the mode of collection of waste and the method of segregation.

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