The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently said that district level environmental committees formed by the Madhya Pradesh state government to approve mining plans are in conflict with the Central environment laws on sand mining and cannot prevail above them. The tribunal bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, also clarified that only the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has the authority to grant environment clearance to mining projects.
The observation came in response to a plea recently filed by the state government and MP State Mining Corporation in the Supreme Court, seeking exemption from ban imposed by NGT in August on mining of minor minerals, including sand, without environmental clearance from MoEF. In its plea, the government also stated that the green tribunal was taking a long time to hear its case. Following this, the apex court asked the tribunal to consider a plea for losses faced by the state following the ban.
On March 23, the state had made changes to the Madhya Pradesh Minor Minerals Rules, 1996, by constituting district level environmental committees for granting clearance to projects and notified that in addition to MoEF and State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), these committees were competent to give environmental clearance for any mining activity in an area less than five hectares (ha).
Earlier, the NGT had issued orders in August banning mining of minor minerals. While all the state governments were asked to take action against mining without the consent of MoEF, Madhya Pradesh government filed an affidavit before the NGT that stopping the work would cause a loss of more than Rs 100 crore. It also argued that it should be exempted from following NGT orders as it had constituted district level committees in accordance with rules and directions issued by MoEF. The affidavit filed by Madhya Pradesh government also showed that most of the contracts for mining were given to private companies. A few of them also have reportedly been involved in illegal mining of sand.
In its order last week, the NGT bench cited a few sections from Mines and Minerals Development Act, 1957, Environment Protection Act 1986, and Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006 which empower only Central government to form laws related to environmental clearances for mining. While dismissing the plea, the order stated, “In no way can the state enact a law which would be in conflict with or would change the very course of the law laid down by the Centre. This conflict between the provisions of the amended rules of 2013 and the notification of 2006 may lead to the very fundamental attack as to the legislative competence of the provisions.”
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