Panaji: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to revisit its March 28, 2020 notification exempting mining leases from the requirement of environmental clearance (EC) for two years as also exempting, inter-alia, activities like extraction of earth for linear projects such as roads, pipelines and for de-silting and dredging of water bodies from the condition of acquiring EC.
A principal bench comprising four members, Adarsh Kumar Goel, SK Singh, Dr SS Garbyal and Dr Nagin Nanda, has given three months’ time to the Environment Ministry to revisit the notification to ensure sustainable development concept and to balance the need for protection of environment.
The judges said the exemption should strike a balance, and instead of being a blanket exemption, it needs to be hedged by appropriate safeguards such as the process of excavation and quantum.
The NGT was hearing a plea filed by Kerala activist Noble M Paikada, challenging the March 28 notification, which is a result of amendment to the September 14, 2006 laws on the requirement of EC before undertaking projects impacting environment.
The amendment exempted new lessees of mining leases (in respect of leases wherein EC had been earlier granted in favour of the previous lessee) from the requirement of EC for two years from the date of the original lease. Further, the exemption was granted for extraction of earth for linear projects such as roads, pipelines etc, dredging and de-silting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river and canals for their maintenance, upkeep and disaster management.
The NGT said two issues need to be looked into with regard to the amended notification. It said in case of exemption to a lessee wherein EC was earlier granted but a fresh lease was granted before the expiry of validity of the EC, there could be justification for the exemption as such, but some mechanism was required for damage assessment and mitigation measures in respect to a particular lease at the time of transfer.
It said some time limit must be fixed for the new lease applying for the EC and also for the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority/ Expert Appraisal Committee (SEIAA/EAC) for taking a decision on such an application, as such a course will balance the need for the protection of the environment.
With regard to exemption from acquiring the EC for activities like extraction of earth for linear projects and dredging and de-silting of water bodies, the NGT said such a blanket exemption must be balanced by sustainable development concept.
“Safeguards were required to be incorporated in terms of disposal of dredged material. These aspects were not shown to have been considered and the reply by the MoEF&CC did not provide any explanation on it,” the NGT order said.