Chairperson of expert committee that granted clearance had conflict of interest
The National Green Tribunal has suspended the environmental clearance obtained by a Belgaum-based mining company to extract iron ore from the south Maharashtra sea coast. The tribunal's order was in response to an appeal filed by the affected villagers of Tiroda in Sawantwadi block of Sindhudurg district in May 2011. The principal bench of the tribunal, comprising C V Ramalu and Devendra Kumar Agrawal, found serious procedural lapses in grant of EC by an expert Advisory Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to the company, Gogte Minerals.
One of the main grounds for suspending the clearance was the fact that the chairperson of EAC (mines), M L Majumdar, was found to be serving as a director in four mining companies. An earlier order of Delhi High Court in 2009, pertaining to Majumdar's position, stated: “As regards EAC (Mines), it is surprising that the 12 member EAC was chaired by a person who happened to be director of four mining companies. It matters little that the said four mining companies were not in Goa. Appointing a person who has a direct interest in the promotion of the mining industry as the Chairperson of the EAC (mines) is in our view, an unhealthy practice that will rob EAC of its credibility since there is an obvious and direct conflict of interest.” The clearance for Tiroda was granted to the mining company while Majumdar held the chairperson’s position in EAC (mines).
The tribunal bench also found out that Terms of Reference (ToR) for conducting the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the mines were violated. An earlier EIA for which EC was granted obscured the existence of other mines in the same administrative block, effects of air and noise in a neighbouring school, effects on a river creek and even existence of mangrove forests. These points, as per the allegations of the petitioners, were deliberately missed out while preparing the draft of EIA to get only desirable Terms of Reference (ToR) to obtain clearance. “The material relied upon for the purpose of EIA was prepared almost two years prior to the application for grant of ToR. It appears from the records that the project proponent in question and the Redi mine is one and the same, and applications for award of ToR appear to have been made simultaneously. In fact, a perusal of the minutes of the meeting of EAC (mines) held from December 12 to14 in 2007 reveals that in the same block, four mining projects came for award of ToR including the project in question,” noted the bench, while suspending the environmental clearance.
While the counsel for the mining company stated in the tribunal that a school situated 160 metres from the mining area will not suffer from any effects of mining, the tribunal note stated the EIA consultant failed to take dust pollution to be caused by mining activity into consideration. “The EIA report simply says that the dust emanating from such a close proximity can be avoided by creating a thick green belt. We may not have scientific data, but it is common knowledge that any dust emanating from such mining activity cannot be said to be controlled by a 50m wide green belt. Admittedly, Tiroda village is a seashore village and the wind from seashore would definitely carry the dust to far off places. Therefore, we are of the opinion that the travel of the fine dust emanating from the mining operations was not taken seriously and without there being any scientific study as to the effect of the dust on the human habitation, particularly the school going children, the EAC could not have recommended for grant of environmental clearance ... We are of the opinion that this is not only a serious lapse on the part of the authorities but a substantial procedural lacuna,” said the tribunal judges.
The tribunal has, however, allowed Gogte Minerals to lift and transport the iron ore already mined by the company in previous years. Further, the company was asked to carry out a fresh EIA based on the ToRs before taking a decision on applying for revival of environmental clearance. Meanwhile, the tribunal has further suggested that MoEF place the case for Gogte Minerals to the new EAC (mines) and it has been given the liberty to accept or reject the proposal. Further, the EAC has been asked to conduct a fresh report on the village and surrounding areas, while also finding ways to relocate the school within the revenue limits of the Tiroda village. The fresh report will consist of existence of number of iron ore mines with its cumulative effects on the environment and ecology of the district block. The tribunal has asked EAC and the company to carry out these tasks within six months of the judgement.
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