Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court:

“Natural resources of the country are not meant to be consumed only by the present generation of men or women of the region where natural resources are deposited. These treasures of nature are for all generations to come and for intelligent use of the entire country.”

The bench of Ashok Bhushan and KM Joseph, JJ has directed the State of Meghalaya to transfer the amount of Rs.100 Crores to Central Pollution Control Board from the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF) which amount shall be used by Central Pollution Control Board only for restoration of Environment.

The Court noticed that the said amount is neither a penalty nor a fine imposed on the State of Meghalaya. Accepting the submission that State of Meghalaya has very limited source of finances and putting an extra burden on the State of Meghalaya to make payment of Rs. 100 Crores from its own financial resources may cause great hardship to the State of Meghalaya, the Court directed that the ends of justice be served in modifying the direction of NGT dated 04.01.2019 to the extent that State is permitted to transfer an amount of Rs. 100 Crores from the amount lying in the MEPRF to the Central Pollution Control Board.

BACKGROUND

The Court was hearing the appeals challenging the various orders of National Green Tribunal wherein several directions were issued, measures to be taken to check and combat the unregulated coal mining in Tribal areas of State of Meghalaya which coal mining resulted not only loss of lives but damaged the environment of the area. Noticing that in the course of rat-hole coal mining by flooding water several employees and workers have died, NGT held that the illegal and unscientific mining neither can be held to be in the interest of people of the area, the people working in the mines nor in the interest of environment.

It, hence, directed

  • the rat-hole mining operation, which has been going on in Jaintia Hills in the State of Meghalaya for last many years without being regulated by any law, be stopped forthwith throughout the State of Meghalaya and any illegal transport of coal shall not take place until further orders passed by the Tribunal.
  • while permitting the transportation of the already extracted coal lying in open near the mining sites, NGT constituted a committee for supervising such transportation.

RULING OF THE COURT

On the power of NGT to issue various directions, the Court held that Rule 24 of National Green Tribunal (Practice and Procedure) Rules, 2011 empowers the Tribunal to make such orders or give such 195 directions as may be necessary or expedient to give effect to its order or to secure the ends of justice. There is no lack of jurisdiction in NGT in directing for appointment of a committee and to obtain a report from a Committee.

“NGT by directing for constitution of committee has not delegated essential judicial functions. The Tribunal had kept complete control on all steps which were required to be taken by the committees and has issued directions from time to time. The State is always at liberty to obtain appropriate directions if aggrieved by any act of the committee.”

It also noticed that NGT by issuing direction to constitute the committee for transportation of the extracting mineral, for preparing time bound action plan to deal with the restoration of environment and to ensure its implementation does not in any manner interfere with the powers of the District or Regional Councils.

FURTHER DIRECTIONS

  1. All extracted coal as assessed by State of Meghalaya lying in different districts of State of Meghalaya which as per order of NGT is in custody of State of Meghalaya shall be handed over to Coal India Ltd. for proper disposal.
  2. The Katakey Committee after discussion with Coal India Ltd. and State of Meghalaya shall formulate a mechanism for transport, weighment of all assessed coal.
  3. The Coal India Ltd. shall auction the coal so received by it as per its best judgment and remit the proceed to State to the extent as directed above.
  4. All coal seized by the State for which cases have already been registered shall be dealt by the State in accordance with Section 21 of 1957 Act.

A total of 15 miners were trapped on December 13 last year in an illegal coal mine at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest, when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it. Only two bodies have been recovered from the mine so far. The Supreme Court had earlier refused to allow miners to transport extracted coal lying at various sites in Meghalaya.

The National Green Tribunal had fined the Meghalaya government on January 4.

[State of Meghalaya v. All Dimasa Students Union, Dima-Hasao District Committee, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 822, decided on 03.07.2019]


Also read:

File status report till Jan 7 on steps taken to rescue trapped Meghalaya Miners: SC to Centre & State

Meghalaya miners: We don’t know if they are dead or alive. What steps have you taken?: SC to State

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A.Y. Kogje, J. passed an order of release of a vehicle involved in transporting mineral / illegal mining after imposing certain conditions. 

A petition was filed under Articles 14, 19, 21 and 226 of the Constitution of India to release the vehicle which was seized under the provisions of Gujarat Mineral (Prevention of Illegal Mining, Storage and Transportation) Rules, 2017 for it being involved in transporting mineral / illegal mining.

Kruti M. Shah, learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that he was ready to pay the penalty amount that may be specified by the authority after completion of entire proceedings at the departmental level or upon the completion of the trial if any.

Vrunda Shah, learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the vehicle was found involved in the illegal mining activity and therefore, the department has acted as per the provisions of Rules of 2017 and as the petitioner was not ready and willing to compound the offence, the vehicle could not have been released.

High court on noting the submission by the parties held that authorized officer was obliged to release the vehicle the moment the person alleged whose vehicle is involved in illegal mining activity furnishes the bank guarantee or the security deposit. The Court thus ordered the authorized officer to release the vehicle after complying with the certain mandatory conditions.[Mohammadkhan Karimkhan Ghori v. State of Gujarat, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 838, decided on 09-05-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench comprising of CJ Dinesh Maheshwari and S. Sujatha, J. allowed a civil writ petition challenging the imposition of penalty on the petitioner for carrying out illegal mining.

Petitioner, a mining leaseholder for a particular tract of land, preferred the instant petition being aggrieved of the notice-cum-order issued by the respondent demanded a sum of Rs 3 lakh as penalty for conducting illegal mining activity outside the leased area.

The Court noted the undisputed fact that before calling upon the petitioner to remit the penalty by way of the impugned order, he was not served with a prior notice of the demand sought to be made. It was observed that the impugned notice was issued without extending an opportunity of hearing to the petitioner. Thus, it was held that the respondent could not recover penalty under the impugned notice.

In the interest of justice, the Court converted the impugned notice/order into a show cause notice and the petitioner was directed to make part payment of penalty in order to avail the opportunity of hearing. Respondents were directed to not adopt coercive recovery proceedings against the petitioner in relation to the remaining amount until a final decision was issued in the matter.

The petition was disposed of with a direction that if the petitioner submits Rs 1 lakh with the Director of Mines and Geology, the impugned demand notice shall be treated as show cause notice. The respondent was directed to take a final decision on the matter after hearing submissions of the petitioner, at the earliest.[G. Basavaraju v. State of Karnataka, 2018 SCC OnLine Kar 2706, decided on 29-11-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Showing dismay over large-scale illegal mining of iron ore and manganese ore in the State of Goa, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ issued several directions to ensure implementation of mining related environment protection laws and said:

“For the State to generate adequate revenue through the mining sector and yet have sustainable and equitable development, the implementation machinery needs a tremendous amount of strengthening while the law enforcement machinery needs strict vigilance. Unless the two marry, we will continue to be mute witnesses to the plunder of our natural resources and left wondering how to retrieve an irretrievable situation.”

Clarifying the directions issued by the Court in Goa Foundation v. Union of India, (2014) 6 SCC 590, on 21st April 2014, the Bench said that as per the said decision, the State of Goa was obliged to grant fresh mining leases in accordance with law and not second renewals to the mining lease holders. Also, the State of Goa was not under any constitutional obligation to grant fresh mining leases through the process of competitive bidding or auction.

The Court noticed:

“The second renewal of the mining leases granted by the State of Goa was unduly hasty, without taking all relevant material into consideration and ignoring available relevant material and therefore, not in the interests of mineral development. The decision was taken only to augment the revenues of the State which is outside the purview of Section 8(3) of the MMDR Act.”

The Bench also clarified that the Ministry of Environment and Forest was obliged to grant fresh environmental clearances in respect of fresh grant of mining leases in accordance with law and the decision of this Court in Goa Foundation and not merely lift the abeyance order of 14th September, 2012.

Hence, the Court set aside the second renewal of the mining leases granted by the State of Goa is liable to be set aside and issued the following directions:

  • The mining lease holders who have been granted the second renewal in violation of the decision and directions of this Court in Goa Foundation are given time to manage their affairs and may continue their mining operations till 15th March, 2018. However, they are directed to stop all mining operations with effect from 16th March, 2018 until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances are granted.
  • The State of Goa should take all necessary steps to grant fresh mining leases in accordance with the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. The Ministry of Environment and Forest should also take all necessary steps to grant fresh environmental clearances to those who are successful in obtaining fresh mining leases. The exercise should be completed by the State of Goa and the Ministry of Environment and Forest as early as reasonably practicable.
  • The State of Goa will take all necessary steps to ensure that the Special Investigation Team and the team of Chartered Accountants constituted pursuant to the Goa Grant of Mining Leases Policy 2014 give their report at the earliest and the State of Goa should implement the reports at the earliest, unless there are very good reasons for rejecting them.
  • The State of Goa will take all necessary steps to expedite recovery of the amounts said to be due from the mining lease holders pursuant to the show cause notices issued to them and pursuant to other reports available with the State of Goa including the report of Special Investigation Team and the team of Chartered Accountants.

In Goa Foundation case, it was held that all the iron ore and manganese ore leases had expired on 22nd November, 2007 and hence, any mining operation carried out by the mining lease holders after that date was illegal. It was also held that all the mining lease holders had enjoyed a first deemed renewal of the mining lease and for a second renewal an express order was required to be passed in view of and in terms of Section 8(3) of the MMDR Act. [Goa Foundation v. Sesa Sterlite Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine SC 98, decided on 07.02.2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal: A Bench of NGT headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar (Chairperson) dealing with the issue of illegal mining causing environmental degradation in the State of Uttar Pradesh was informed by the State Government that it would comply with the restoration and the restitution work directed by the High Powered Committee without any protest.

The counsel appearing for the U.P. Government also told the Bench that the pockets where environmental degradation has been noticed by the High Powered Committee, the State Government would abstain from granting mining permissions for such pockets for the current year. [Pramod v. State of U.P., Execution Application No. 17 of 2016 in Original Application No. 184 of 2013, order dated 04.12.2017]