Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (October 27-30, 2020)

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

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 01 November 2020

MoEF&CC notification on mining

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to revisit its March 28, 2020 notification that amended the September 14, 2006 one on the requirement of Environment Clearance (EC) before undertaking projects impacting environment.

The new amendment exempted new lessees of mining leases (in respect of leases where EC had been earlier granted in favour of the previous leasee) to require EC for two years from the date of the original lease.

Further exemption was granted for extraction of earth for linear projects such as roads, pipelines, etc, dredging and desilting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river and canals for their maintenance, upkeep and disaster management.

The NGT said two issues needed to be looked into.

First was exemption to a leasee where EC was earlier granted, but a fresh lease was granted before expiry of validity of EC. It said there could be justification for the exemption as such, but some mechanism was required for damage assessment and mitigation measures in respect to a particular lease at the time of transfer.

Further, some time limit must be fixed for the new lease applying for the EC.

The second issue was exemption from requirement of EC for extracting / sourcing / borrowing of ordinary earth for the linear projects such as roads, pipelines, etc and for dredging and de-silting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river and canals for the purpose of their maintenance, upkeep and disaster management.

NGT said it was possible to take a view that the EC could be exempted for these situations on account of assessment already made or for extraction of earth for linear project, but such blanket exemption must be balanced by sustainable development concept.

The exemption should strike balance and instead of being blanket exemption, it needed to be hedged by appropriate safeguards such as the process of excavation and quantum. 

Safeguards were required to be incorporated in terms of disposal of dredged material. These aspects were not shown to have been considered and the reply by the MoEF&CC did not provide any explanation on it, the NGT October 28, 2020 order said. 

Solid waste in Delhi

The NGT October 27 disposed of the application filed by the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) against the NGT order of December 14, 2017.

The order had directed that the land available for commercial buildings with the Delhi government not be developed unless it was provided for solid waste management.

According to the applicant, the direction needed to be vacated. This was because the applicant had got a layout plan approved for setting up a multi-level manufacturing hub according to the Master Plan Delhi-2021, on a plot identified for a sanitary landfill site at Ranikhera.

In the present application, the applicant stated that there was a viable alternative in form of 42.5 acres of the land, which should be considered.

The NGT disposed of the application, stating that the issue of availability of suitable land for solid waste management had to be first sorted out by the chief secretary and the lieutenant governor. If they took a decision on the issue, the DSIIDC could move the court based on it. 

Lalitpur Power Generation Co

The NGT defered proceedings in the case of environmental breach by Lalitpur Power Generation Company Limited (LPGC) to February 19, 2021. The Bench of judges Adarsh Kumar Goel and Sheo Kumar Singh said it hoped LPGC would understand its legal responsibility to the environment as well as rule of law and take effective measures.

The court noted that the matter was considered on several occasions in the last two years. Regular violation of environmental norms was found on various issues like fly ash disposal, installation of continuous ambient air quality monitoring station (CAAQMS), handling hazardous waste, control of fugitive emissions, adequate tree plantation and proper operation of sewage treatment plant (STP).

On February 17, the court had directed that installation of flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) be completed within six months.

The NGT said the report by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board of August 13 did not indicate any satisfactory progress on the subject of installation of FGD and other deficiencies on the subject.

Dhamapur lake

The public works department at Sawantwadi in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district had illegally built a skywalk at Dhamapur lake in the district, according to a compliance affidavit filed by the collector of Sindhudurg before the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Despite continuous follow ups, repeated meetings and orders, the department had:

  1. Failed to deposit a fine of Rs 1.5 crore to the state biodiversity fund
  2. Did not start demolition of the illegal structure till October 21, 2020

The collector attached the official bank account of the department to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore, in accordance with the NGT order of October 9, 2020.

Due to the department’s ‘lethargic and negligent attitude’ in implementing orders of the NGT and the collector, a departmental enquiry against it was proposed, after which, efforts were made for the removal of the illegal structure.

Piparwar open cast project

Air, water and soil pollution by fugitive emission of coal dust due to the handling and transportation of coal were the most important public health impacts of mining at the Pipawar Opencast Coal Mining Project (OCP) in Jharkhand.

The report detailing this was submitted by a joint committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on environmental violations by Central Coalfields Ltd at Piparwar OCP. It was uploaded to the court’s website October 27, 2020.

The Pipawar OCP is no longer extracting coal, but has been in non-compliance of a number of environmental clearance (EC) conditions. This non-compliance has persisted for many years, the report said.

The North Karanpura coalfield in Jharkhand had a large number of coal deposits and old mines that were reaching the end of their lives like the Sanghamitra OCP, Ashoka West OCP and Piparwar Expansion OCP, the report said.

Attracted by the coal deposits, the region was seeing an expansion in coal-based thermal power plants (TPPs). The 2,400-megawatt Tandwa TPP by NTPC was about to be commissioned and several TPPs were planned in a 25 km radius of Dakra.

The committee said the cumulative environmental impacts of these developments could not be understood through individual environmental impact assessments or investigations of individual projects. In particular, coal transport occurred outside project premises, on public roads or via common railway sidings used by multiple projects.

In a region rich in rivers, the impact of cumulative forest loss and mining activities on rivers and groundwater hydrology could be understood only at the catchment or sub-basin scale.

The public health and socio-economic impacts of such large-scale mining and TPP would be non-linear and complex.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.