NGT junks government order easing mining rules
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has overruled the Union environment ministry’s three 2016 notifications that exempted mining of minor minerals like sand in up to 25 ha area from prior public consultation and the environmental impact assessment (EIA).
“EIA is an integral and most critical component of environmental clearance as it is only through the EIA that the potential impacts and potential risks of a project can be assessed and mitigation measures formulated…,’’ an NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel-led bench said in its order on Tuesday.
“…by exempting EIA and environmental management plan, critical environmental aspects like anticipated impacts, mitigation measures and additional studies involving public consultation, risk assessment, social impact, rehabilitation and resettlement action plans stand exempted.”
The bench noted that the ministry’s notifications were in conflict with the 2016 sustainable sand mining guidelines, which said an EIA should address the environmental impacts of minor mineral mining.
The ministry had amended the 2006 EIA notification and put mining of minor minerals in an area up to 25 ha in B-2 category. An environmental clearance is required under the category. But it is exempted from public hearings and EIA. The notification bypassed any detailed environmental study and only asked for basic project information.
A district environment impact assessment authority was granted powers for environmental clearance for mines spread over an area up to 25 ha.
Petitioner Vikrant Tongad had contended that the district level assessment authority had no scientific expertise in assessing environmental impacts.
Even within the B2 category mines, up to 5 ha areas were exempted from devising an environmental management plan. This had allowed miners to break large mines into patches of less than 5 ha to avoid any environmental scrutiny. “These provisions quite apparently are more mine-centric rather than striving a balance between mining and environment,” the bench noted.
NGT directed public hearings and EIA for minor mineral mines with 5 to 25 ha area. It added state environment impact assessment authority would evaluate smaller mines of up to 5 ha instead of district level body.
The bench ordered the ministry to incorporate a procedure to calculate the annual rate and timeframe for replenishment after mining is stopped in an area and frame guidelines for calculation of the cost of restitution of damage caused to mined out areas.
The NGT said the exemption for minor minerals violated a 2012 Supreme Court order, which held that all mining leases depending on their size would need to obtain environmental clearance.
The Builders Association of India (BAI) said the order will have a major impact on the construction and infrastructure projects. “While the ministry is trying to ease the process, NGT is creating hindrances,’’ said BAI executive secretary Raju John. He called it “a very unstable situation” for construction industries. “Without excavating, one cannot construct anything.”