NGT asks Environment Ministry to revise diluted clearance procedures for minor minerals

BHUBANESWAR Sep 28: In an embarrassment to the government, the National Green Tribunal has found the Centre’s dilution of environmental clearances to sand and minor minerals inconsistent with past Supreme Court orders and againt principles of sustainable development.

The NGT, in its 13 September 2018 order, directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) which had done away with requirements of public hearing and environmental impact assessments (EIA) for certain mines to revise its procedures for granting clearances. The order will have a significant bearing on the construction sector whose ability to source sand legally, and sustainably, has always been in question.

Clearance for major minerals such as iron ore or bauxite are granted by the Centre. In the case of minor minerals, and for areas up to 50 hectares, it is the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) that does the job. These clearances are to be as per the procedures provided for under the Environment Impact Assessment notification of 14 September 2006 (EIA 2006) – requiring a public hearing, an EIA and an environment management plan (EMP).

Leases under five hectare areas were exempted from this requirement under EIA 2006. This prompted many, in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana in particular to break up their quarries into smaller plots of 4.9 ha. When brought to its notice, the Supreme Court “noting the serious deleterious effect of quarrying, mining and removal of sand in-stream and up-stream of rivers to the environment,” had ruled on 27 February 2012 that, irrespective of size, all such operations would require ECs. The landmark order of in the matter of Deepak Kumar vs State Of Haryana and others would allow for clampdown on the rampant illegal sand mining taking place across the country.

That year the Ministry made EIA, EMP and public hearing applicable to leases of less than five hectares. Meanwhile certain states set up district authorities with powers to clear the smaller mines. The NGT, pointing out that states had no such policy-making powers, had in 2015 asked the Centre to come up with a uniform policy.

On 15 January 2016, the Narendra Modi government issued a notification allowing such district authorities to clear leases of upto five hectares. It went further, exempting leases of 5- 25 ha from carrying out EIAs and public hearings. Clusters of mines, individually smaller than five hectares, were also exempted. A second notification provided guidelines for the constitution of such district authorities.