the Nainital High Court has rescued hapless residents of Kataldi village in Tehri Garhwal, Uttaranchal. It has stayed mining activity there (see: Deep impact, February 28, 2002). The two-judge bench, in an order passed on December 20, 2002, observed that mining was "derogatory according to rules" and should come to a halt till the court made a final decision. The directive was issued on a writ petition filed by Ramamurthi Sreedhar, trustee of Uttaranchal-based non-governmental organisation, Academy for Mountain Environics, along with Mahesh Lakhera, a resident of the village.
The petition contended limestone mining in the region would dry up water sources, negatively impact agriculture and damage houses situated in the vicinity. It also asserted that part of the mining lease pertained to village van panchayat land on which the forest department had once planted trees. Further, it was argued, state officials and the lessee, Parvatiya Mineral Industries, had colluded to carry out activities. The private firm had been granted a 30-year lease on a 5.3-hectare piece of revenue land on August 18, 2001.
There have been conflicting reports by various government departments and officers ever since the villagers began protesting. For one, then district magistrate Radha Ratury ordered closure, fearing social unrest and because she had not been consulted on the lease grant. Kunwar Prasoon, a resident restrained by the local court from interfering in the issue, says, "The lessee definitely has political backing. How else could they push so hard to retain the lease in the face of people's ire?"
Reveals Puneet Kansal, additional secretary in the Uttaranchal industry department: "The conservator of forest initially said the mine was not in the forest area, but in the report he refused to give such a statement." On his part, the conservator was tight-lipped about the commissioner's report. As the bureaucracy continues to muddy the issue, buoyed residents of Kataldi prepare to fight the war.
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