Madras High Court: G.R. Swaminathan, J., remarked that,

“I am conscious that every judicial verdict must be anchored only in law and logic. But a judge must also exhibit awareness of what is going on. His inner antena should catch the signals. To create such an ambience, before dictating this Judgment, I listened to T.M.Krishna’s “poramboke padal”.

 I recalled the words of Nithyanand Jeyaraman that while encroachment of water bodies may be regularised by law by issuing pattas, “Nature” will not take note of the same. I think it was Pt.Deen Dayal Upadhyaya who said that we must treat Nature like a milk-yielding cow. We must milk it and not slaughter it.”

Petitioners sought stoppage of quarrying operations conducted by respondent 5 who had been granted mining lease to quarry rough stone.

It was the petitioner’s contention that the leaseholder had breached the permit conditions as powerful explosives were used.

They stated that blasting operations seriously endanger the lives of the farm-hands who are working in the nearby agricultural fields. There is a considerable generation of dust causing air pollution. The leaseholder has also encroached on a water body. He has blocked the customary pathway of the villagers and even the local Panchayat passed a resolution favouring the closure of the quarry.

District Administration had permitted respondent 5 to quarry Tirupani rock for the purpose of earning revenue.

It takes probably a million years for such rocks to be formed while it takes a few minutes to destroy them.

Whether executive authorities can permit the destruction of such hillocks?

It was stated that it is well settled that the Government, as well as the citizens, have a constitutional obligation to protect the environment and ecology.

As per the doctrine of inter-generational equity adumbrates that environment is not only for the benefit of the present but also the future generations.

In the Supreme Court decision of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (1997) 1 SCC 388, held that the State as a trustee of all-natural resources is under a duty to protect them. Resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership.

In Intellectuals Forum v. State of A.P., (2006) 3 SCC 549, it was held that it is the responsibility of the State to protect the environment.

In N.D. Jayal v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 362, the Supreme Court observed that the right to the environment has been declared as a fundamental right.

Bench stated that Man has continued his predatory activities without any break and Nature is losing her patience.

Adding to the above remark, Court also stated that the rubicon is about to be crossed and retribution is in the offing. The time for course correction is now or never. 

Bench stated it was time to implant basic structure doctrine by way of analogy into the principle of sustainable development evolved in environmental law.

While the administration can tap the hills and hillocks for mineral resources, exploitation cannot lead to their complete destruction.

It was noted that at the rate at which the exploitation had been going on, the hillock itself would be extinct in a few years.

Why Hills and Hillocks cannot be given away for mining?

High Court stated that we are a democratic republic and the Government cannot arbitrarily give away hills and hillocks for exploitation.

Merely because the process of issuance of mining lease was conducted in consonance with the statutory procedure, that would not confer any immunity against judicial scrutiny. Unless there are supervening public interest considerations, hills and hillocks cannot be given away for mining.

Bench referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Lal Bahadur v. State of U.P., (2018) 15 SCC 407, in this decision, Court quashed the master plan whereby use of area in question for green belt in the master plan was changed.

Right to Environment, Right to Life & Right to Development

Speaking of the right to environment, it means that one has the right to retain the advantages and benefits conferred naturally on the environment. It must be conceded that no right can be enforced absolutely. Need may often arise to balance the said right with the right to development. But then the onus lies on the executive to demonstrate that there is a need to subordinate the right to environment to the right to development.

High Court observed that it is facile to assume that destroying the hillock in question would be of no consequence. Also, the official respondents did not demonstrate as to why the hillock in question should be destroyed to enrich the exchequer of the day by a few million rupees. The case was not of wherein there was lack of minerals or they could not be sourced from somewhere else. Hence, no compelling public interest.

Adding more to the reasoning, Court stated that no doubt, Tamil Nadu Minerals Minor Concession Rules, 1959, applies to all the lands in the State of Tamil Nadu and this includes hills and hillocks too, but as per the limitations to exercise the statutory power conferred by such Rules, one of the limitation states that the authorities will not allow the destruction of hills and hillocks by mechanically issuing mining licenses.

Bench stopped the quarry operations looking at the exploitation that has gone beyond the threshold level, hence writ of mandamus was issued.

Lastly, Court noted the fact that respondent 5 cannot be faulted as she has been restrained from enjoying the fruits of the lease well before the expiry of the same, hence she was permitted to make representation to authorities for a refund of proportionate lease amount for the unexpired period.[K. Santhanam v. District Collector, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 2092, decided on 26-04-2021]

Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioners:: Mr. V. Malaiyendran

For R-1 to R-4 :: Mrs. M. Rajeswari, Government Advocate.

For R-5: Mr H. Arumuga

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