National Green Tribunal

National Green Tribunal: The Principal Bench of NGT initiated suo motu proceedings in the light of media reports captioned “three children die during illegal mining in West Bengal”. The three-member Bench of Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Sudhir Agarwal (Judicial Member) and A. Senthil Vel (Expert Member),.issued advance notice to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, Mining Officer, District Magistrate, and Inspector of Police, Siliguri, West Bengal and directed the District Magistrate to ensure compensation of amount Rs.20 lakhs each to the heirs of the deceased and Rs. 5 lakhs to the injured.

In the matter at hand, three children died during illegal mining in West Bengal on 07-03-2023, they were crushed to death and one child was injured and admitted to hospital, while loading illegally mined sand on truck on the bed of a river . They were hired for illegal loading activities on promise of payment of Rs. 350each, per truck.

The Tribunal noted that the death of the children was due to the violation of established norms, it was failure on part of the State authorities to enforce the law and prevent the incident of illegal mining, and no steps were taken for recovery of compensation from the violator as per environmental law nor the compensation paid to the victims by the State was as per any reasonable basis. Further, it said that the State cannot avoid responsibility for compensating the victims in view of negligence of its authorities in enforcing the rights of the victims by using its regulatory authority in controlling illegal hazardous activities. Thus, it was held that the State cannot escape liability for violation of environmental norms.

Placing its reliance on M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 1 SCC 395, the Tribunal stated that, while primary liability is of the persons engaged in illegal mining on basis of ‘Absolute Principle’, but when the violators have not been made to pay, it is the liability of the State to pay the compensation and recover the same from the violators. Liability for compensation is in addition to liability under the criminal law.

Further, it stated that the State is liable to pay compensation as per its duty as welfare State to protect the citizens and for failure to take steps to protect the citizens against hazardous illegal activities.Thus, the Tribunal directed the District Magistrate to ensure payment of compensation of Rs. 20 lakhs each to the heirs of the deceased and Rs.5 lakhs to the injured, after deducting the amount already paid by the State.

[In Re: News item published in Newspaper The Hindu dated 07.03.2023 titled “Three children die during illegal mining in West Bengal”, 2023 SCC OnLine NGT 128, decided on 28-03-2023]

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