Government's new policy to decentralise the process of granting environmental clearance to mining of sand and minor minerals has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal.
Government’s new policy to decentralise the process of granting environmental clearance to mining of sand and minor minerals has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal.
An environment activist has moved a plea before the green panel seeking quashing of two notifications issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to amend the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 and constitution of district level panels for appraising projects for mining of minor minerals.
Taking note of the plea, a bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim issued notice to the Environment Ministry seeking its reply within two weeks.
The matter was listed for next hearing on November 2.
The Ministry in January had notified the minor mineral mining policy, decentralising the process of granting environmental clearance (EC) for sustainable mining of sand and minerals.
As per the notifications, the districts will decide on ECs for 5 hectares of individual lease and 25 hectares in cluster. For areas up to 50 hectares, their state counterparts will be responsible for environment clearances. The Ministry will step in to give clearances for areas above 50 hectares.
To make the policy functional, district administrations have been asked to set up the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) at the earliest. The chairperson of four-member DEIAA will be District Magistrate or District Collector and the Member Secretary will be SDM/SDO. The other two members are DFO and an expert to be nominated by Divisional Commissioner.
For the purposes of assisting the DEIAA, the Ministry has also constituted a 11-member District Level Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC) for all the districts in the country.
The plea filed by environmental activist Vikrant Tongad contends that composition of DEIAA and DEAC reflects absence of environmental expertise as most of posts are administrative in nature who lack environmental knowledge.
“As a consequence of these Notifications, the process for appraisal and environmental clearances system has been substantially modified and the composition of the DEIAA and DEAC is inadequate to protect the environmental requirements of ecosystems in granting clearances for mining of minor minerals,” the plea filed through advocate Rahul Choudhary said.
Tongad has said in his plea that these notifications were “ultra vires” (beyond the powers) the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as they diluted the necessary safeguards of environment impact assessment requirement.
“Exemption of requirement of public hearing for mining leases below 25 hectares, either for individual or cluster goes in complete contradiction with the statutory requirement of public hearing and right of affected communities to express their views and concerns.
“Many judicial verdicts have time to time emphasized the need and interpreted the significance of Public Hearing. The impugned notification 1 has arbitrarily exempted the requirement of public hearing without any explanation on such exemption,” the plea said.