‘Development will come to standstill’: Environment clearance not needed for mining of ordinary earth, says Supreme Court

By: |
July 29, 2020 5:45 AM

It stated that the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) had amended its specific notification and thus exempted environmental clearance.

Citing SC judgment that stated “all mining of minerals requires environment clearance, the Society sought to classify mining of “ordinary earth” as other mining.Citing SC judgment that stated “all mining of minerals requires environment clearance, the Society sought to classify mining of “ordinary earth” as other mining.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said development will come to standstill if mining of ordinary earth also needs environmental clearance.

A bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde asked the Society for Protection of Environment & Biodiversity to move the National Green Tribunal.“You are saying that ordinary earth has been included as minor mineral by the state government. Development will come to standstill if mining ordinary earth also needs clearance. We don’t agree with you,” the CJI said, while rejecting the plea seeking to mandate environmental clearance for all mining.

The PIL challenged the MoEF notification of March 28 to an extent that a new Clause 6 had been inserted to the Appendix IX of the EIA, 2006 and thus ‘extraction or sourcing or borrowing of ordinary earth for the linear projects such as roads, pipelines etc’ has been exempted from requiring a prior environment clearance that was otherwise a mandatory pre-requisite and conditional precedent under the EIA, 2006.

It said that extraction of ordinary earth is a mining activity as “Ordinary Earth” was notified as a ‘minor mineral’ under Section 3(e) of the MMDR Act, 1957 in 2003 and the SC in Som Datt Builders Ltd vs UOI, in 2010 upheld the vires of the relevant notification notifying ‘ordinary earth’ as a minor mineral.

Citing SC judgment that stated “all mining of minerals requires environment clearance, the Society sought to classify mining of “ordinary earth” as other mining. It claimed that the 2003 government notification classified “ordinary earth” too as a mineral.

It stated that the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) had amended its specific notification and thus exempted environmental clearance. It sought directions to the state governments to stop extraction of earth for making bricks and roads, which is in violation of the SC decision as well as directions of the MoEF to all the states.

The MoEF wrongly exercised its extraordinary power which can be exercised only in ‘public interest’. It is no gainsaying to state that the impugned notification infact impedes ‘public interest’ which is in ensuring and notifying stringent environmental norms rather than retrograde steps that allow wide scale mining of ordinary earth with a prior EC, the PIL filed through advocate Vanshdeep Dalmia stated.

According to Dalmia, the ministry in 2013 had constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of Director, NEERI, which had recommended that activities for excavation/ borrowing of ‘ordinary earth’ more than 5 hectare should be treated as Category B1 projects which entail a detailed EIA study, public hearing, etc and those less than 5 ha to be treated as Category B2 projects subject to 11 safeguards including no blasting, maximum depth of 2m, restoration of area, after mining, compliance with dust emission norms etc.

While this expert panel report had been accepted by the government, it had not conducted any subsequent study or literature stating that mining/extraction of ordinary earth does not have any impact on the environment, the PIL alleged.

Earlier, the mining of ‘ordinary earth’ was not covered under environmental laws as most of the ordinary earth extraction work in the country was having mining activities in area less than 5 hectares. Later, the MoEF notifications of May 2012 directed that all the mining activities irrespective of the mining area was required to get the required clearances. Another memorandum of January 2016 ordered that the activities of borrowing/excavation of ‘ordinary earth’ up to an area less than 5 hectares, comes under category ‘B2’ projects for mining of minor minerals.

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