In a major blow to the illegal mineral mining quarries operational in Punjab and Haryana, irrespective of their size, the Punjab and Haryana high court has suspended their operations till they take the mandatory environment clearance from the union ministry of environment as per law.
The division bench comprising of chief justice Jasbir Singh and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, during the resumed hearing of a bunch of public interest litigations, directed the chief secretaries of both the states to inform all the deputy commissioners to ensure implementation of the directions in their respective districts. Both the state authorities were also directed to give wide publicity to the high court's orders.
The decision has mainly affected operations of the quarries below five hectares of land as they were not required to take environment clearance earlier and a maximum number of quarries in the states are below five hectares. Also as per the petitioners' allegations, in order to circumvent the rules the state governments were facilitating the mining operations by dividing the major chunk of land into less than five hectares of quarries so as to avoid the mandatory environment clearance.
The bench was also surprised to know that even though the Supreme Court in its judgment on February 27 had made it mandatory to take environment clearance for the mining quarries upto five hectares but still both the states were openly allowing the mining. The court was also informed that even the ministry of environment and forests had issued a memorandum on May 18 which was circulated to all the states and union territories.
The apex court had said in its judgment, "…leases of minor mineral including their renewal of an area less than five hectares can be granted by the states/union territories only after getting environmental clearance from the ministry of environment and forests."
The bench also stated that as per the Supreme Court directions, all the applications seeking mining permissions would be disposed of by the ministry of environment and forests within 10 days of receipt.
However, on this the centre government's standing counsel Onkar Singh Batalvi informed the bench that the bench should also incorporate in its orders that such applications should be disposed of by following all the steps laid down in rules to which the bench agreed.
As per law the complete process of granting mining permissions require around 210 days in all and there is very little scope to make it short which would further halt the mining operations for a longer period of time.