The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal has held that environmental clearances are mandatory for mining leases – whether major or minor, or those that are even less than five hectare area – as per the amended environmental impact assessment notification issued in January, 2016.
The bench has ruled that existing mining leases too will have to get the green nod and any mine – minor or major – shall not be permitted to operate without the EC, irrespective of the size of the mine.
The order came on an application filed by the Tamil Nadu Small Mine Owners Federation seeking the quashing of a clarification letter issued by the Union ministry of environment and forests on April 3, 2017.
The application had claimed that the clarification letter was violative of the amended EIA notification dated January 15, 2016.
The southern bench referred to earlier orders passed by the principal bench of the NGT, saying that the cut-off date for filing the applications was limited up to March 31, 2016, and those mining firms which had filed applications thereafter will be treated as violators.
The letter issued on April 3, 2017 had clarified that as per the amended EIA notification, all mining leases, major minerals as well as minor minerals, operating in the country were required to obtain ECs after January 15, 2016.
The MoEF&CC’s clarification letter had directed the SEIAA to consider the application filed by leaseholders irrespective of the area after January 15, 2016 as violation cases.
It also mentioned that such mines (including of less than five hectare area) which were in operation prior to January 15, 2016 were required to stop their mining activity and apply to the MoEF&CC, the SEIAA at state level and the district environment impact assessment agency for seeking environment
However, the two-member southern bench of the NGT, which consisted
of Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta, stated that the applications which are pending as on March 31, 2016 for EC have to be treated as normal applications and not violation applications, and that the authorities are directed to dispose of those applications in accordance with law.
Those applications filed after that date can be treated as violation applications and the MoEF or the state environment impact assessment authorities can dispose of such applications as violation cases as per law, the bench said in its order.
“However, we can clarify that those persons who have already filed application for environment clearance as on March 31, 2016 cannot be treated as violator, as the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal had permitted them to comply with application and consider those applications in accordance with law. Only those persons who have filed application thereafter will have to be treated as violator,” the bench said.
The bench after hearing the parties said that it was clear that even in 2014, when the 2006 notification was amended, the distinction between major and minor minerals was taken away and any mining lease of non-coal products, having less than five hectares, was brought under the regime of environmental clearance.