The Sarpanch Grampanchayat and Others Vs Ministry of Environment and Forest



Posted on 12 September 2011
The Sarpanch Grampanchayat and Others
Vs
Ministry of Environment Forests
APPEAL NO. 3 OF 2011


JUDICIAL AND EXPERT MEMBERS: Justice Shri C.V. Ramulu and Prof. Dr. Devendra Kumar Agrawal
Key words: Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board, State of Maharashtra, M/s Gogte Mineral, M/s Infrastructure Logistics Pvt. Ltd, Sawantwadi Taluk, Sindhudurg District, mining, Environment Impact Assessment, Expert Appraisal Committee, Environmental Clearance, Public Hearing

Application Disposed With Directions

Date: 12th September, 2011

This appeal is filed, under Section 18(1) read with section 16 of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, being aggrieved by the grant of Environmental Clearance (for short EC) dated 31st December, 2008 by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (for short MoEF), Government of India (for short GoI), New Delhi, in favour of M/s Gogte Minerals (Respondent No. 5), for conducting mining operations, at Tiroda Iron Ore Mine (Mining Lease Area - 31.4812 ha with a production capacity of 0.40 MTPA) at Tiroda village, Sawantwadi Taluk, Sindhudurg District of Maharashtra State.

It appears that the M/s Gogte Minerals was granted EC, by the MoEF, through its order dated 31st December, 2008, for conducting mining operations at Tiroda Iron Ore at Tiroda Village, Maharashtra. Aggrieved by the same, the appellants herein, had filed appeal, before the then National Environment Appellate Authority (now stood abolished) in 2009, but the appeal was rejected at the threshold on the ground that appeal was time barred. Aggrieved by the said order, the appellants herein approached the Hon’ble High Court, Bombay in Writ Petition No. 7050 of 2010, where the petition was allowed and the matter was remitted to the National Green Tribunal established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, for hearing the petitioners’ appeal on merits, after treating the same filed within the period of limitation.
The first appellant is the Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Tiroda village, whereas the appellants 2 and 3 are the villagers of Tiroda village, Swantwadi Taluk, Sindhudurg District of Maharashtra. It is their grievance that the EC was granted by the MoEF, GoI, for the project of mining at Tiroda Iron Mine, in an extent of 31.4812 ha, with a production capacity of 0.40 MTPA without properly examining the environmental problems, that would be created by the mining operations of iron ore at Tiroda village and no process, known to law, was followed. The project is hazardous to human health and further it is polluting the river joining the sea. The existence of forest and a school located adjacent to the buffer zone of Mining Lease area was not taken into consideration. No scientific data was collected, as to what is the effect of dust on the school children and on the village inhabitants. The project was granted EC flouting all the norms of environmental law and the procedure thereof.

The following issues arose for consideration:
i) Whether the prior-EC process and Public Hearing conducted by the authorities were legal or not.
In view of the findings noticed above, the learned judges are of the considered opinion that the EIA report cannot be said have been properly prepared since sufficient and appropriate data was not collected and presented as per the awarded Terms of Reference (ToR) in the meeting held on 13 December, 2007. But, it cannot be said that the Public Hearing was vitiated or invalid as substantial compliance was made in this regards. However, the very purpose of the Public Hearing got defeated since the EIA report was defective.
ii) Whether the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) had conducted itself as per law and examined all the aspects of pollution while recommending grant of EC.

The learned judges are in full agreement with the submissions made by the learned counsel for the appellant that the EIA report which was prepared at the behest of project proponent, does not disclose proper and sufficient facts and information. For example, the entire baseline data pertains to a period much prior to award of ToR. Though the Public Hearing was conducted mostly in accordance with the procedure, the various objections raised in the Public Hearing, as reflected in the Public Hearing minutes placed on record were not properly evaluated and addressed in the EIA report. . Therefore, it cannot be said the EAC had conducted itself in the manner it requires in recommending the grant of EC to the project.

iii) Whether post EC measures such as precautionary principles suggested by the authorities were adhered to by the project proponent and non-compliance if any resulted in vitiating the EC granted.

The EC requires to be set aside. However, considering the fact that the Mining operation has substantially complied with the conditions attached to the EC, before commencing the mining operations and thereafter and it is now almost two years, therefore, the learned judges refrained from quashing the EC.

Thus, the Appeal is disposed of with the following directions keeping in view the balance to be maintained between the environment and development and the precautionary principle:

1) The EC dated 31st December, 2008 granted in favor of the Mining Operator shall be kept in abeyance with immediate effect, till a fresh decision is taken by the MOEF. However, the operator may be allowed to lift and transport the iron ore already mined and stacked on the site, as per law.

2) The MoEF shall place the matter before the new EAC (Mining) to which Majumdar is not a party and seek a fresh consideration of the matter taking all the material as available as on date as to compliances. If the EAC considers it necessary to impose additional conditions, it may direct the proponent to comply with the same including fresh EIA based on prescribed ToR before taking a decision for revival of the EC. However, the Tribunal makes it clear that the EAC is at liberty to reject or accept the proposal for recommending revival of EC in favor of the project proponent.

3) The EAC, however, shall call for fresh report in so far as causing air, noise and water pollution keeping in view the proximity of the school as observed in this judgment and may recommend for relocating the school by constructing a new building at a safe location within Tiroda revenue village with similar accommodation and suitable playground around, along with all modern basic amenities as required by the local Education Department.

4) The EAC also shall call for a fresh report as to existence of number of iron ore mines in Sawantwadi Taluk and their cumulative effect on the environment and ecology of the area particularly the Tiroda village.

5) This entire process shall be completed within a period of 6 months from the date of receipt of this judgment.

With the above directions, the Appeal stands disposed of.