Fine of Rs 41.21 Crores imposed on a Government Corporation for excess mining and violation of conditions of Environmental Clearance: NGT issues 10 directions || If no fine, would rule of law be impacted? Read

National Green Tribunal (NGT), Southern Zone, Chennai: While imposing a fine of Rs 41.21 crores on Singareni Collieries Company Limited, for violation of environmental clearance conditions and mining excess coal, the Coram of Justice K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member) and Dr Satyagopal Korlapati (Expert Member) expressed that,

“The Government Corporations are expected to be more law abiding and if any leniency or discrimination is shown for committing violation, then it is very difficult to maintain the rule of law, if any violations were committed by other persons. There will not be any moral right for the regulators to take action against others, if similar violations were committed by them.”

A resident of Telangana filed an application regarding the violation committed by respondent 1 in respect of violation of conditions in the Environmental Clearance (EC) and Consent granted and also pollution caused on account of the operation of the unit.

Allegations

It was alleged that the applicant along with 700 families were living adjacent to the Opencast Coal Mine operated by respondent 1 facing severe air, noise and water pollution besides severe heat due to massive blasting, drilling, and extraction of coal in the Opencast Mine.

Analysis and Decision

Tribunal noted that the grievance of the applicants was that, SCCL, a Government-owned public sector undertaking corporation had conducted their operation without necessary clearances and also in violation of the conditions of the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted and also doing excess mining, causing pollution to the neighbouring water bodies and properties of the residents of the locality both air and sound. Damage was being caused on account of the indiscriminate unscientific manner in which blasting was being done.

In a way it was admitted by the SCCL themselves that they had done excess mining than the permitted quality and when they applied for an expansion of the project, it was treated as a violation case, hence proceedings were initiated by filing a complaint under Section 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The Joint Committee, after conducting the Ambient Air Quality and Vibration Study, found that the Ambient Air Quality and the sound level were within the permissible limit and the pollution control mechanism provided was adequate and that was not causing any dust pollution as claimed by the applicants.

The Joint Committee had come to the conclusion that except for excess mining and also partial cause for damage to the houses on account of the vibration caused during blasting, there was no other violation noted by the Joint Committee. 

It is seen from the report that excess mining was done at the instance of the Government to meet the supply of coal to thermal power stations to meet the power demand. It may be mentioned here that though it is a Government owned corporation, they are not expected to exploit natural resources, as no one including the Government said to be the owners of the natural resources are only the trustees to hold the natural resources to be used in a scientific manner so as to make the natural resources available for the generation to come, applying the “Doctrine of Public Trust”. 

Further, it was noted from the Joint Committee that on account of excess mining, they earned a profit of Rs 588.60 Crores in 11 years and 3% of that amount namely, Rs 17.65 Crores had to be contributed to remediation and including this amount, an amount of Rs 26,67,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty Six Crores and Sixty Seven Lakhs only) was directed to be produced as Bank Guarantee, which they had produced.

Coram directed the Mining Department to calculate the penalty for the excess mining done in view of the Supreme Court directions issued in Common Cause v. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 499.

Considering the period of violation, Tribunal opined that instead of 3% (Three percent), 10% (Ten percent) of the profit namely, Rs 58.86 Crore (Rs.588.60 Crore x 10%) can be imposed as compensation for excess mining and deducting Rs.17.65 Crores which was directed to be utilized for remediation purpose, the balance amount of Rs. 41.21 Crores will have to be paid by the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) as compensation for excess mining done by them and this amount will have to be paid to the Telangana State Pollution Control Board within a period of 3 (Three) months.

Telangana State Pollution Control Board was directed to identify the persons whose houses were damaged due to vibration caused on account of blasting and quantify the amount required for repairing the houses.

SCCL was directed to comply with the recommendations of the Joint Committee and also conditions imposed in the Environmental Clearance (EC) already granted and subsequently granted for their combined expansion project, enhancing the capacity to 5 MTPA.

The gist of the Directions

(i) The Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) is directed to pay a compensation of Rs 41.21 Crores [i.e. Rs.58.86 Crores (10% of the profit) – Rs 17.65 Crores (3% of the profit) which was directed to be adjusted towards the remediation plan] within a period of 3 (Three) months with the Telangana State Pollution Control Board and if the amount is not paid within that time, the State Pollution Control Board is directed to take steps to recover the amount from them by requesting the District Collector to initiate revenue recovery proceedings.

(ii) The Mining Department is directed to calculate the penalty payable for the excess mining done in view of the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Common Cause V. Union of India (2017) 9 SCC 499, as even at the time when it was treated as a violation case, the project proponent/SCCL has filed an undertaking that they will abide by the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Common Cause’s case cited supra.

(iii) The Telangana State Pollution Control Board in consultation with the District Collector of the concerned area, identify the persons whose houses have been damaged as observed by the Joint Committee partially due to vibration caused on account of blasting during the initial stages and the amount required for repairing the houses will have to quantified and the same will have to be paid to those persons whose houses have been identified as damaged on account of the operation of the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) and this amount will have to be realized from SCCL. The environment compensation amount will have to be utilized for the purpose of preparing a welfare scheme for protecting the welfare and interest of the people who are residing in and around the coal mining area who are likely to be affected by the project activities and also a portion of the out of compensation will have to be utilized for meeting the welfare of the Tribal settlement, if any, situated in Khammam District or nearby districts. Mode of welfare scheme etc. will have to be evolved by the Committee appointed by this Tribunal for this purpose.

(iv) The preparation of scheme must be in consultation with the Chief Secretary to Government, State of Telangana and the Special Chief Secretary to Government – Department of Environment, Science & Technology and that will have to be jointly implemented by the State Pollution Control Board and the concerned District Collector.

(v) The Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) is directed to comply with the recommendations of the Joint Committee and also conditions imposed in the Environmental Clearance (EC) already granted and subsequently granted for their combined expansion project, enhancing the capacity to 5 MTPA. The expanded project can be permitted to be carried by the project proponent namely, the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) after complying with the direction issued by the MoEF&CC while granting the Environmental Clearance (EC) as violation case and also after depositing the amount as directed by this Tribunal as compensation for excess mining done over and above the permitted quantity mentioned in the Environmental Clearance (EC) earlier granted.

(vi) In order to monitor the implementation of certain CSR Projects said to have been launched by the project proponent, we appoint a Joint Committee under the chairmanship of the Special Chief Secretary to Government, Department of Environment, Science and Technology, State of Telangana with following members (i) a Senior Officer from the Integrated Regional Office, MoEF&CC, Hyderabad, and (ii) the District Collector – Khammam District and they are directed to monitor the compliance of the Environmental Clearance (EC) conditions and also the projects said to have been launched by the SCCL in compliance with the direction issued in the Environment Remediation Plan as well as their CER activities and if they did not comply with the same, the MoEF&CC is directed to take appropriate action for violation of the conditions of the Environmental Clearance (EC) against the SCCL.

(vii) The Telangana State Pollution Control Board is directed to monitor the pollution control mechanism and compliance of conditions in the Environmental Clearance (EC) and Consent granted periodically and if there is any violation found, then they are directed to take appropriate action against the SCCL in accordance with law.

(viii) The Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) is also directed to take all necessary precautions to avoid complaints of pollution being caused on account of their operation both air and soil and also control the vibration and sound that is likely to be emanated during blasting operation to avoid complaints from the nearby residents.

(ix) The Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) is also directed to provide necessary greenbelt and also other pollution control mechanism to avoid air and dust pollution being caused. They are also directed not to discharge any trade effluents or liquid waste generated during the operation of their mine and they are directed to strictly implement the ZLD within their unit.

(x) The Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) is also directed to expedite the laying of railway track and complete the same and take steps to transport the coal using railway line instead of road as directed to be complied with within the timeline specified in the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted.

In view of the above directions, the applications were disposed. [Banothu Nandu Nayak v. Singareni Collieries Company Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine NGT 127, decided on 6-5-2022]


Advocates before the Tribunal:

O.A. No.174/2020 (SZ):

For Applicant(s): Mr. Sravan Kumar.

For Respondent(s): Mr. A. Sanjeev Kumar, Spl. Govt. Pleader for R1. Mrs. Me. Saraswathy for R2.

Mr. T. Sai Krishnan for R3.

Mrs. H. Yasmeen Ali for R4 & R5.

O.A. No.20/2021 (SZ):

For Applicant(s): Mr. Sravan Kumar.

For Respondent(s):

Mrs. Me. Saraswathy for R1.
Mr. T. Sai Krishnan for R2.
Mr. A. Sanjeev Kumar, Spl. Govt. Pleader for R3

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