Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench comprising of S. A. Bobde, CJ., A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., addressed the instant PIL addressing the issue of protection of two species of birds namely the Great Indian Bustard (‘GIB’) and the Lesser Florican, which is on the verge of extinction. The Bench remarked,

“…keeping in view, the sustainable development concept and on striking a balance the protection of the rare species of birds is essential to be made, the effort being to save every bird while at the same time allowing transmission of power in an appropriate manner.”

Earlier the application in I.A. No.85618 of 2020 was filed seeking interim directions to direct the State of Rajasthan and State of Gujarat to ensure predator proof fencing, controlled grazing in the enclosure development and to direct the said respondents not to permit installation of overhead power lines and also not permit further construction of windmills and installation of solar infrastructure in priority and potential habitat as identified by the Wildlife Institute of India.

The petitioners being environmentalists, were seeking to protect the rare birds which are dwindling in number. It was contended that GIB is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, about a meter in height and wing span of around seven feet. It had disappeared from 90 per cent of habitat except parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The existence of overhead power lines was stated to have become a hazard due to which the said species of birds on collision are getting killed.

It had been submitted by the state that the underground highvoltage line is not technically feasible due to several factors such as (i) high cost (ii) high downtime to repair any failed cable (iii) non­availability of cables at 765 Kv level and (iv) increase in the number of joints with length of run.

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in its Report “Power Line Mitigation, 2018” had stated that every year 1 lakh birds die due to collision with power lines. The Report concluded that unless power line mortality is mitigated urgently, extinction of GIBs is certain. The study estimated 3 bird mortalities/km/month for low ­tension lines, 6 bird mortalities/km/month for high ­tension lines, and about 1 lakh birds/per year within a 4200 sq.km area in/around Desert National Park, Rajasthan. In terms of GIB, 6 mortalities had been recorded in Thar during 2017­-2020, all due to high­tension transmission lines – some of them connected to wind turbine. Ministry of Power, Union of India, in its affidavit had admitted that,

“The Great Indian Bustard lacks frontal vision. Due to this, they cannot detect powerlines ahead of them, from far. As they are heavy birds, they are unable to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. Thus, they are vulnerable to collision with power lines. In case of low voltage lines, electrocution is often the cause of death due to smaller phase to phase separation distance. High voltage lines do not cause death due to electrocution but cause death due to collision.”

In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2012) 3 SCC 277, it had been observed that,

“Environmental justice could be achieved only if we drift away from the principle of anthropocentric to ecocentric…ecocentrism is nature­centred where humans are part of nature and non­humans have intrinsic value. In other words, human interest does not take automatic precedence and humans have obligations to non­humans independently of human interest. Ecocentrism is therefore life­centred, nature­centred where nature includes both humans and non­humans.”

On the respondents’ contention regarding lack of funds, the Bench observed that there was Centrally Sponsored Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats Scheme, 2009 which provides for financial sharing between Centre and State. Further, there are schemes that provide for 100% central assistance in respect of GIB. Citing the decision of M.C Mehta v. Kamal Nath,(1997) 1 SCC 388, the Bench opined, the State as well as the Central Government have a duty to preserve the endangered species. Pursuant to which following directions were pronounced:

Directions

  1. The government shall take steps forthwith to install divertors pending consideration of the conversion of the overhead cables as exist on today in the priority and potential GIB area into underground powerlines.
  2. In all such cases where it is found feasible to convert the overhead cables
    into underground powerlines the same shall be undertaken and completed within a period of one year and till such time the divertors shall be hung from the existing
  3. Irrespective of the cost factor the priority shall be to save the near extinct
  4. One of the options that could be explored, is to invite the attention of each electricity utility engaged in the generation of power, to Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, which imposes corporate social responsibility upon companies having a specified net worth or turnover or net profit.
  5. Under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 (CAF, 2016), substantial funds are available with the National and State Authorities. The State of Rajasthan has already set up a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority. Rule 5(2)(i) of these Rules permit the use of the State Fund for the improvement of wildlife habitat. (According to the petitioner a sum of Rs.47,436 crores, out of a
    total of Rs.54,685 crores CAMPA Fund have been transferred by the Union Environment Ministry to the States for afforestation projects.)
  6. For conservation of the habitat to secure the safety of the eggs laid by the birds, the area earmarked shall be fenced and protected from invasion by predators so that the eggs laid in these areas are protected. The power supply line regarding which underground passage is to be made should also avoid these areas.
  7. Since the laying of highvoltage underground power line would require expertise to assess the feasibility of the same. For the purpose of assessing the feasibility the Bench constituted a committee consisting of Dr. Rahul Rawat (Scientist), Dr. Sutirtha Dutta (Scientist) and Dr. Devesh Gadhavi, Deputy Director (The Corbett Foundation).
  8. The above committee was granted liberty to obtain technical reports if need be, from experts in the field of electricity and the respondents were directed to refer the matter to the committee with all the relevant material and particulars if there is any issue relating to feasibility.

[M.K. Ranjitsinh v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 326, decided on 19-04-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together

Appearance before the Court by:

For the Petitioner: Sr. Adv. Shyam Divan

For the Respondents: ASG Aishwarya Bhati and Sr. Adv. Manish Singhvi

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Coram of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chairperson and Justice Sudhir Agarwal, Justice Brijesh Sethi, Judicial Members and Dr Nagin Nanda, Expert Member, addressed an application with regard to illegal mechanical sand mining.

Question for consideration

Remedial action against illegal mechanical sand mining on the river bed of River Yamuna and construction of a temporary bridge with hume pipes at Shamli, Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier, Tribunal in light of the Joint Committee’s report had considered the above-stated issue and had directed remedial action against which the entity carrying on mining approached the Supreme Court by way of appeal. Though Supreme Court had dismissed the said appeal.

Vide an Order dated 28-11-2019, Tribunal noted the remedial action taken by way of levy of compensation and revocation of Environmental Clearance was inadequate.

Vide an Order dated 29-10-2020, compensation for damage to the environment had to be in the light of the cost of restoration with deterrent element and having regard to the financial capacity of the violator. This aspect does not seem to have been considered.

Further, the Bench stated that State PCB and District Magistrate may take further appropriate action. Compensation was recovered for only 48 days, though illegal mining was found for about 5 years, as per the report.

Tribunal noted the legal position with regard to the payment of compensation on polluter pays principle. Compensation is equal to loss caused or suffered.

In Supreme Court’s decision of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 1 SCC 395 it was laid down that the person undertaking hazardous activity was liable for damage caused irrespective of negligence. Compensation has to have relation with the financial worth of the violator so as to be a deterrent.

With regard to compensation for illegal mining, Tribunal dealt with the matter in a recent order dated 26-02-2021 in NGT Bar Association v. Virender Singh (State of Gujarat), OA No. 360 of 2015.

Moving forward, Bench in view of the facts and circumstances of the case expressed that the issue of compensation may be revisited by the joint committee of State PCB and District Magistrate.

Application was disposed of in view of the above-stated reasons. [Sandeep Kharb v. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; 2021 SCC OnLine NGT 137, decided on 07-04-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Applicant: Mr. Pradeep Dahiya, Advocate for Applicant

Respondent(s): Mr. Amit Tiwari, Advocate for State of UP

Mr. Pradeep Misra, Advocate for UPPCB

Mr. Sanjeev Ralli, Senior Advocate with Mr. Saurabh Rajpal, Advocate. For M/s M.M Traders

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Coram of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and Justice Sudhir Agarwal, Justice Brijesh Sethi (Judicial Members) and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member), addressed a matter wherein it was alleged that a forest guard was mowed down by mining mafia in Sariska Tiger Reserve.

Proceedings based on News Report in Times of India

The inception of the present proceedings was based on a media report i.e. a news item published in the Times of India on 27-07-2020 under the heading “Forest guard mowed down by ‘mining mafia’ in Sariska”.

Forest home guard was mowed down by a tractor belonging to the suspected mining mafia inside Sariska Tiger Reserve after he attempted to stop them. The guard was rushed to a hospital where he succumbed to injuries.

Further, it was stated that the tractor was seized but the accused was yet to be arrested. It was also added that this was not the first incident, in the past villagers have attacked forest officials.

Due to the menace of frequent attacks in Sariska, unarmed forest guards often struggle to protect the area.

Matter considered in the past

When the matter was considered on 10-08-2020, it was observed that there was failure of oversight regulatory mechanism in enforcing provision of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines, 2020.

In view of the above, a committee was constituted to take further remedial action and to file a report specifically mentioning estimate of illegal mining, number of mines sanctioned in the area and regulatory mechanism to check the illegal mining in the eco-sensitive area.

Analysis & Decision

Tribunal noted that in view of the Supreme Court decision in T.N Godavarman v. UOI, WP No. 2020 of 1995, tribunal by it’s order dated 20-12-2018 in Nityendra Manav v. UOI, had prohibited mining within 10 km of Sariska Tiger Reserve and quashed the Environmental Clearance in question against which appeal was filed before the Tribunal.

Coram in view of the above stated that it is necessary for the authorities to take further remedial measures to enforce the law of land.

Polluter Pays Principle

Further, it was directed that State PCB and District Magistrate, Alwar may take steps to stop operation of mining leases, operating illegally, without requisite consents and also to examine whether the leases for which consents are given are permissible. Tribunal added to its direction to State PCB that it may also recover compensation for damage to the environment by illegal mining activities, following due process on ‘Polluter Pays’ principle.

To study the carrying capacity of the area to sustain the mining activities on ‘Sustainable Development’ principle, the constitution of a joint committee comprising MoEF&CC, CPCB, State PCB, Chief Wildlife Warden, SEIAA, Rajasthan and District Magistrate, Alwar has been directed.

CPCB and State PCB will be the nodal agency for compliance and coordination. and joint Committee may give its report within three months.

Matter to be listed for further consideration on 11-08-2021. [News item published on 27-07-2020 in the local daily named “Times of India” titled “Forest guard mowed down by ‘mining mafia’ in Sariska”,  2021 SCC OnLine NGT 79, decided on 6-04-2021]


Advocates before the tribunal:

Respondent: Ms. Punam Singh, Mr. Kumar Rajesh Singh, Advocates for MoEF & CC

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench, New Delhi: The Bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and Justice Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member) and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member)declined any relief to the applicant seeking an injunction against the demolition of Dhobi Ghat.

The instant application sought an injunction against the demolition of Dhobi Ghat, Okhla Delhi.

Applicant on an earlier occasion had approached the Delhi High Court by way of WP (C) 8963 of 2020, Muslim Kassar Vikas Sangthan (Reg.) v. Delhi Development Authority, the said petition was disposed of on 12-11-2020, wherein the Court had asked the petitioners to approach the NGT. 

Tribunal found the grievance to be out of the ambit of Sections 14 and 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

Bench added that jurisdiction of NGT under Sections 14 and 15 can be invoked by a victim of pollution for the restoration of environment or for compensation to the victim, and the said issue is not shown in the instant matter.

Hence, in view of the above application was disposed of. [Muslim Kassar Vikas Sangthan (Regd.) v. Delhi Development Authority, 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 867, decided on 11-12-2020]


Also Read:

Section 14 of the NGT Act:

Tribunal to settle disputes.—(1) The Tribunal shall have the jurisdiction over all civil cases where a substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment), is involved and such question arises out of the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule I.

(2) The Tribunal shall hear the disputes arising from the questions referred to in sub-section (1) and settle such disputes and pass order thereon.

(3) No application for adjudication of dispute under this section shall be entertained by the Tribunal unless it is made within a period of six months from the date on which the cause of action for such dispute first arose:

Provided that the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the application within the said period, allow it to be filed within a further period not exceeding sixty days.

Section 15 of the NGT Act:

Reliefcompensation and restitution.—(1) The Tribunal may, by an order, provide,—

(arelief and compensation to the victims of pollution and other environmental damage arising under the enactments specified in the Schedule I (including accident occurring while handling any hazardous substance);

(b) for restitution of property damaged;

(c) for restitution of the environment for such area or areas,

as the Tribunal may think fit.

(2) The relief and compensation and restitution of property and environment referred to in clauses (a), (band (c) of sub-section (1) shall be in addition to the relief paid or payable under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 (6 of 1991).

(3) No application for grant of any compensation or relief or restitution of property or environment under this section shall be entertained by the Tribunal unless it is made within a period of five years from the date on which the cause for such compensation or relief first arose:

Provided that the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the application within the said period, allow it to be filed within a further period not exceeding sixty days.

(4) The Tribunal may, having regard to the damage to public health, property and environment, divide the compensation or relief payable under separate heads specified in Schedule II so as to provide compensation or relief to the claimants and for restitution of the damaged property or environment, as it may think fit.

(5) Every claimant of the compensation or relief under this Act shall intimate to the Tribunal about the application filed to, or, as the case may be, compensation or relief received from, any other court or authority.

Case BriefsCOVID 19Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): Coram of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member), Dr Satyawan Singh Garbyal and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Members), while addressing the issue and considering the ban on the use of firecrackers observed that:

Celebration by crackers is for happiness. It is not to celebrate deaths and diseases. Happiness of few at the cost of life of others is not the value in Indian society which stands for happiness and well-being of all.

Issue

Remedial Action against pollution by use of firecrackers aggravating the menace of COVID-19 pandemic, posing a higher danger to the lives and health of the vulnerable groups.

Current Restrictions of Firecrackers

Bench noted that considering the potentially harmful consequences of burning crackers amidst COVID-19 pandemic situation and approaching winter, the State of Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, NCT of Delhi (DPCC) and UT Chandigarh prohibited sale and use of firecrackers to protect the vulnerable groups like elderly, children, persons with co-morbidities and others.

Tribunal also placed reliance on the Technical Expert Committee that prohibition on firecrackers is a necessity to avoid the harmful health impact on account of the bursting of crackers, aggravating COVID during increased pollution.

Calcutta High Court’s decision in Anasua Bhattacharya v. State of W.B., WPA No. 1984 of 2020, was also noted wherein the Court has banned firecrackers.

State of Tamil Nadu

State of Tamil Nadu submitted that banning of crackers will affect the livelihood of the manufacturers and workers and the same was justified.

State of Punjab

Punjab claimed that air quality in its non-attainment cities was satisfactory and moderate during certain months.

Assam Pollution Control Board also stood by the stand of State of Punjab.

Amicus

Amicus, Raj Panjwani submitted that air pollution increases the risk of mortality from COVID-19.

He referred to various articles and further added that Lung injuries, including the life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory failure, as well as an acute coronary syndrome, arrhythmia, myocarditis, and heart failure, were shown to be clinically dominant, leading to critical complications of COVID-19.

Recent studies in China, the USA, as well as Europe, indicate that patients with cardiovascular risk factors or established cardiovascular disease and other comorbid conditions are predisposed to myocardial injury during the course of COVID-19. From the available information, it thus follows that air pollution-induced inflammation leads to greater vulnerability and less resiliency, and the pre-conditions increase the host vulnerability.

Nexus between Pollution and COVID-19

Amicus added that with Covid-19, even reduced pollution becomes hazardous. What may be permitted in normal time can also not be permitted during Covid-19. That is the reason for the ban by the States which was never considered without Covid. The States have gone by expert advice in doing so. There is enough material indicting nexus between the pollution and the Covid and that the increased pollution will increase Covid impact.

Tribunal: Decision and Analysis

Bench stated that the Supreme Court’s decision in regard to ‘Firecrackers’ does not involve the impact of COVID-19, due to which it makes necessary for the tribunal to proceed further.

Financial loss or loss of employment cannot be a consideration not to remedy the situation affecting lives and health of the citizens by pollution, aggravated by Covid.

Further, the bench emphasised that

“while it is true that any restriction on the sale and use of crackers may affect the business and employment, at the same time if the use of crakers results in pollution and affects life and health of the citizens and the environment, such use may have to be restricted/prohibited to effectuate ‘Sustainable Development’ principle of which ‘Precautionary’ principle is a part, as per the mandate of Section 20 read with Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.”

In view of the above stated, Tribunal stated that if authorities do no exercise its jurisdiction, the Tribunal has to exercise its jurisdiction.

Right of trade is not absolute and is to be subject to the ‘Sustainable Development’ principle, which is part of Right to life.

Relevant SC directions and Observations

In Arjun Gopal v. Union of India(2017) 1 SCC 412it was noted that air quality standards in Delhi are from ‘poor’ to ‘severe’ during winter resulting in the potential of diseases. Directions that were issued in the said decision were:

  1. Suspend all such licenses as permit sale of fireworks, wholesale and retail, within the territory of NCR.
  2. The suspension shall remain in force till further orders of this Court.
  3. No such licenses shall be granted or renewed till further orders.

The above directions were modified in the following Orders:

Arjun Gopal v. Union of India(2017) 16 SCC 280, It was noted that, the health of the people has to take precedence over any commercial or other interests, graded regulation of firecrackers was necessary which would eventually result in prohibition. Accordingly, directions were issued to restrict the temporary licenses to 50%, pending further consideration.

Supreme Court in Arjun Gopal v. Union of India, (2019) 13 SCC 523, while banning certain categories of firecrackers and directing regulation of the remaining, directed that on Diwali days or other festivals, firecrackers will be used strictly between 8 p.m to 10 pm only with different timings for some other festivals.

In the Supreme Court’s decision, the scope of the precautionary principle, even in absence of scientific certainty, was considered, apart from the contention of economic considerations, as a bar to remedy pollution.

In view of the data of CPCB, Tribunal stated that it is not possible to accept that in the State of Punjab ar quality is satisfactory or moderate everywhere in November. Bench stated that it needs a uniform yardstick needs to be applied based on objective criteria of air quality in the context of COVID-19 pandemic and associated adverse health impacts.

Green Firecrackers

While bursting of green firecrackers for the duration of two hours on festival days may be allowed in areas with moderate and below air quality, where not otherwise prohibited by authorities/Courts, there has to be total ban where air quality is poor and above.

With regard to the submission of States to not impose the ban of firecrackers or green crackers on festival days for 2 hours is justified where air quality is moderate and below but not where air quality is poor and above which may result in deaths and diseases.

Bench stated that to States/UTs falling in NCR and where 122 non-attainment cities are located, tribunal proposes to issue directions in rem applicable to all States/UTs.

Since air pollution aggravates COVID-19, not only crackers are to be banned/restricted depending upon air quality, all States/UTs, PCBs/PCCs must take special initiative to contain air pollution by regulating all other sources to pollution, particularly during COVID-19.

Conclusion & Directions

Tribunal in view of the above discussion held that a case is made out for issuing directions for banning the sale and use of firecrackers during November 9 to 30 in areas where air quality is ‘poor’, ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’.

Following are directions:

  • Total Ban against sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the NCR from midnight of November 9-10, 2020 to the midnight of November 30-December 1, 2020, to be reviewed thereafter.
  • Direction (i) will also apply to all cities/towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality during November (as per available data of last year) fall under ‘poor’ and above category.
  • Cities/Towns where air quality is ‘moderate’ or below, only green crackers be sold and the timings for use and bursting of crackers be restricted to two hours during festivals, like Diwali, Chatt, New Year/Christmas, etc. as may be specified by the State concerned. If nothing is specified by the State, timing will be 8 to 10 pm on Diwali and Gurupurb, 6 am to 8 am on Chatt and 11.55 pm to 12.30 am during Christmas and New year eve (which have yet to come and do not fall in November but if the ban continues) and not otherwise.
  • At other places, ban/restrictions are optional for the authorities but if there are more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, the same will prevail.
  • All States/UTs/PCBs/PCCs may initiate special drives to contain air pollution from all sources in view of the potential of aggravation of Covid-19.
  • States/UTs Chief Secretaries and DGPs may issue and circulate an appropriate order in above terms with appropriate enforcement guidelines to all the District Magistrates and Superintendents of police, PCBs/PCCs.
  • CPCB and the State PCBs/PCCs may regularly monitor the air quality during this period which may be uploaded on their respective websites.

Matter to be listed on 1-12-2020.[Tribunal on its own Motion v. Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change; 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 860; decided on 09-11-2020]


Also Read:

NGT | Whether use of firecrackers be banned in Delhi-NCR from 7th November to 30th November, 2020 in public interest? Tribunal to decide

Cal HC | No sale or purchase of firecrackers in any form: State to ensure that there is no use of firecrackers during Diwali celebrations & Kali Puja

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Coram of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and Justice S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member) and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member), while addressing a matter reiterated that,

There is no absolute right to extract groundwater for commercial purposes. If anyone is found extracting groundwater, it is per se a criminal offence under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Illegal Extraction of Groundwater

Tribunal sought a report from the State Pollution Control Board with regard to the allegation of illegal extraction of groundwater and discharge of polluted water with dyes and chemicals into the drain by the National Wollen and finishers.

State PCB filed a report wherein it was noted that Regional Director, CGWB, Chandigarh was directed to take action and levy environmental compensation on National Wollen and Finishers for extracting underground water without CGWA permission, as per the report of CPCB in-house Committee on Methodology of assessing Environmental Compensation and Action Plan for its utilization of Fund Assessed.

Further, the report also stated that the consent to establish under the Water Act and Air Act was granted on 03-09-2012.

In the Tribunal’s decision of Shailesh Singh v. Hotel Holiday Regency, OA No. 176 of 2015, it was held that,

“…groundwater extraction has to be regulated having regard to the safety of level of groundwater so that water bodies and e-flow of rivers is not affected.”

There is no absolute right to extract ground water for commercial purpose. If anyone is found extracting ground water, it is per se a criminal offence under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Hence, the tribunal held that National Wollen and Finishers has been found to be extracting groundwater, therefore, State PCB must stop such extraction by coercive means and recover compensation for such illegal drawal for the period for which such drawal took place up to five years from the date of filing of the application before this Tribunal.

Adding to its decision, the tribunal also stated that, there is also a violation of Consent terms under the Water and Air Acts which can certainly be enforced by the PCB, in view of the failure of CGWB to take action.

In view of the above, the application was disposed of. [Raj Kumar Singal v. State of Haryana, 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 220, decided on 05-08-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

India marks the beginning of super year of Biodiversity with the hosting of the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an environmental treaty under the aegis of United Nations Environment Programme, from 17th to 22nd February 2020 at Gandhinagar in Gujarat.

India – Norway Joint Statement on Climate and Environment

  1. Meeting at the beginning of the ‘2020 Super Year’ for the environment, the Ministers stressed that they will do their share to ensure that the 2020s will be a decade of rapid action on climate and environment.
  2. The two sides expressed interest to continue and strengthen the mutually beneficial cooperation on environment and climate between the two countries, including on ocean affairs.
  3. Actions that target climate change and air pollution at the same time pose a win-win situation. The two sides recognized that such actions should be stepped up, and agreed to work together to raise this agenda.
  4. The Ministers recognized that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol for phasing down use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) could prevent up to 0.40C of warming by end of the century, Further, noting that universal ratification of Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol shall allow realization of its full potential.
  5. The Ministers noted the results of the projects supported by Norway on issues/aspects related to phase-down of HFCs. It was agreed to continue such projects for facilitating a smooth transition towards energy-efficient solutions and technologies while phasing down HFCs.
  6. If managed properly, the ocean holds the key to meeting many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Integrated ocean management is central to achieving a sustainable blue economy. In 2019 Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Solberg welcomed the signing of the MoU on India-Norway Ocean Dialogue and the establishment of the Joint Task Force on Blue Economy for Sustainable Development. The two Ministers were pleased with the progress that has been made under this MoU, including the establishment of the Marine Pollution Initiative. They were particularly satisfied that Norway and India will sign a Letter of Intent on integrated ocean management including sustainable Blue Economy initiatives.
  7. The Ministers also noted the importance of delivering concrete, scalable solutions for ocean health and wealth at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon on June 2020.
  8. The Ministers further noted the importance of sustainable management of chemicals and waste and welcomed the cooperation between India and Norway on the implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and on the minimisation of discharge of marine litter.
  9. The Ministers emphasized a shared understanding of the global and urgent nature of marine plastic litter and microplastics and underlined that this issue cannot be solved by any one country alone. They are committed to supporting global action to address plastic pollution and exploring the feasibility of establishing a new global agreement on plastic pollution.
  10. The Ministers agreed to support and work together with other political leaders to prompt a global and effective response to curb the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss. They agreed to work together to deliver an ambitious, strong, practical and effective global biodiversity framework at COP15 of CBD to be held in Kunming, China, in 2020.
  11. The Ministers further discussed the conservation of migratory species of wild animals. The Ministers recognized the importance of integrating ecological connectivity into the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
  12. The Ministers stressed that international supply chains and finance must de-invest from deforestation and destruction of nature and invest in companies and projects that improve smallholder livelihoods while promoting sustainable production and consumption. They agreed to continue the discussion on forests and deforestation free supply chains.
  13. The Ministers stressed that the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme offers a good opportunity to call for greater international action on several environmental issues, in particular strengthening action for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
  14. Minister Rotevatn thanked Minister Javadekar for the great hospitality extended to him and his delegation during the visit. He invited Minister Javadekar to visit Norway and the Arctic, to further strengthen the collaboration between India and Norway on climate and environment.
  15. Norway and India will explore areas of cooperation in forestry and linking the same with climate change.

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

[Source: PIB]

[Press Release dt. 16-02-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Sudhanshu Dhulia, J. contemplated a writ petition where the residents of village Danpur in Rudrapur moved a petition before the National Green Tribunal and informed that the rice mills which were operated in the said village were polluting the environment. The petitioner was the Mill owner who had now filed the instant petition against the order for imposition of penalty.

NGT passed an order, thereby directing the State Pollution Control Board to inspect and file its report. Subsequently, the State Pollution Control Board inspected the rice mills and found certain anomalies in the rice mill since the air filters were not working in the rice mill and the petitioner was asked to rectify his air pollution control system and the report was subsequently submitted to the NGT. In reply to which NGT asked the Board as to why a penalty was not imposed on the Mill for the pollution already caused. Hence, a penalty of Rs 3,37,500 was imposed on the abovementioned Mill.

Counsel for the petitioner, Subhash Upadhayaya argued that penalty was purely in an arbitrary manner. There had been no inspection of the rice mill after 08-05-2019 and even earlier to that, and permission had already been given to the rice mill of the petitioner for 90 days.

On the contrary counsel for the State, Aditya Pratap Singh had apprised that the fixation of the penalty/compensation was not done arbitrarily, but it was based on the guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board.

The Court observed that though the matter was pending before NGT related to the quantum of the penalty the petition had no merits. It further noted that the respondent had also admitted that the compensation/penalty was not justified and the same will be refunded to the petitioner.[Bansal Industries v. Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 627, decided on 18-07-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): A Coram of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson) and S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member), K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member), JJ., and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member), directed that a sum of Rs 17.31 crores assessed by the Committee comprising Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) and Deputy Commissioner, Panipat, be deposited by Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL) Panipat Refinery within one month with the CPCB by way of interim compensation for restoration of the environment subject to further orders. Further action may be taken by the HSPCB in accordance with the law.

In the present case, a complaint was filed stating that air and water pollution caused by Panipat Refinery was causing large scale diseases affecting the inhabitants of the area. A joint team consisting of CPCB, HSPCB and deputy commissioner, Panipat was formed to assess the pollution caused. The report acknowledged enormous pollution. The samples from the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) were found to be non-compliant. Ambient air quality was exceeding the norms. Untreated effluent was found to be discharged in the green belt areas. Unit was not complying with the conditions of recycling and reusing treated water. ETP was not being operated efficiently and was not adequate. Untreated effluents were being stored in open storage lagoon without VOC recovery system.

Mr Aman Lekhi, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for the IOCL responded to the report by the committee through a note which stated that the permission to discharge into Thirana drain was granted by the department of irrigation, Haryana Government. The respondent could not be made responsible for ambient air quality as the report by the joint committee itself was unable to attribute the same to IOCL and only said that the unit might be contributing to increase in values.

The Tribunal noted that IOCL could not justify the discharge of polluting effluents. Permission by the Pollution Control Board could be only to discharge effluents as per laid down norms. No dilution was available in the drain and norms were being violated. There was adequate material to hold that there is a violation of environmental norms.

The Tribunal disregarded the submission that no compensation may be required to be paid as the pollution was also contributed by others. The respondents could not avoid responsibility for the same. It was directed that a sum of Rs 17.31 crores assessed by the Committee may be deposited by the unit with the CPCB by way of interim compensation for restoration of the environment subject to further orders.[Satpal Singh v. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Panipat Refinery, 2019 SCC OnLine NGT 63, decided on 10-05-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench of Rajiv Sharma, ACJ. and Lok Pal Singh, J., gave directions to the State Government against the encroachment upon the Alpine meadows in the State.

The petition was sought to conserve and preserve Bugyal (Alpine meadows) situated below the area of Roopkund in District Chamoli. Referred to as the ‘Nature’s own gardens’, the area was primarily meant for grazing the sheep and goats and comprises of life-saving medicinal plants. It had been prayed to direct the forest department to make a Policy for the protection of Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyals, consequently restricting grazing of sheep and goats to local shepherds hence making it non- commercialized. The petition also directed to remove permanent fibre huts constructed by the Forest department made of concrete base thereby restricting the overnight stay of the tourists in the local surroundings plus put an end to the gathering of ‘Keera Jari’ (Yarsagambu, a medicinal plant) as the area suffered from soil erosion, pollution and poaching of animals.

The Court concluded that it was the duty of the State to protect and improve the environment, forests and wildlife of the country as per Article 48A of the Constitution of India following which it also underlined the fundamental duty towards the environment of each individual under Article 58A(g).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Accordingly, the bench disposed of the PIL with following directions:

  1. To remove all the permanent structures from Bugyals.
  2. To constitute the Eco-Development Committees.
  3. To restrict the number of tourists to 200 visiting the alpine meadows.
  4. To ban overnight stay in the Alpine.
  5. The commercial grazing of cattle was banned and only the local shepherds alone would be permitted to graze their cattle on the Bugyals by restricting the number of cattle.
  6. To conduct systematic survey of its flora.
  7. Every forest division should have a herbarium of important medicinal, rare, threatened and botanically interesting plants for reference and done only through government/public sector, as recommended by the experts.

[Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyal Sanrakshan Samiti v. State of Uttarakhand, 2018 SCC OnLine Utt 760, order dated 21-08-2018]

Conference/Seminars/LecturesLaw School News

Society for the Advancement of Animal and Environmental Welfare, Friends Beyond Species (National Law University Odisha, Cuttack) will be hosting the first of its kind conference in collaboration with Humane Society International India on Animal and Environmental Welfare with specific emphasis on Wildlife Conservation and Emerging Trends on 25th – 26th September, 2018.

As a pioneering venture the Journal for Animal and Environmental Welfare (JAELW) will also be launched at the aforementioned event publishing the shortlisted research papers. In pursuance of this the Society for the Advancement of Animal and Environmental Welfare (NLUO) hereby invites your valued contributions for the 1st Issue of the mentioned journal in the form of research papers.

Theme: Wildlife Conservation and Sustainability

Sub-themes

  1. Human-wildlife interactions: Does conservation lead to conflict?
  2. Community Conservation: A critical tool for wildlife protection
  3. Environmental Entrepreneurship as a tool for livelihood of local communities and conservation
  4. Illegal Wildlife Trade: Technology enables policing and traceability
  5. Role of citizen science in wildlife management
  6. Institutional governance and legal requirements for co-existence
  7. Live elephant trade in India: Legal and Illegal
  8. Use of social science in wildlife conservation
  9. Zoo: Wildlife Conservation or Violation of Animal Rights
  10. Wildlife Crimes and Law: International Accords and Treaties
  11. National Policy and Legal Framework to curb wildlife trade
  12. Tourism Industry, Environment and Wildlife – Impact and Legal Challenges

Important Dates

  • Last date for Abstract submission: 20th August, 2018
  • Intimation to authors (short listing of abstracts): 23rd August, 2018
  • Last date for payment of registration fee: 1st September, 2018
  • Last date for final paper submission: 16 September, 2018; 23:59 hours

Submission Guidelines: Submissions may be in the form of Articles (3,500-6,000 words).

The word count is exclusive of footnotes. The body of the manuscript should be in Times New Roman, size 12 with 1.5 spacing.

The footnotes should be in Times New Roman, size 10 with single spacing. Submissions must conform to the OSCOLA format of citation and include a 250 word abstract that briefly summarises the paper.

The last date for submission of abstract is 20th August, 2018

The last date for submission of complete paper is 15th September, 2018.

Submissions are to be e-mailed tocaew@nluo.ac.in with the subject heading ‘Volume I – JAELW Submission’.

The e-mail should indicate which sub-theme the paper is intended for. Further, it should also contain the name of the author, qualifications, title of the manuscript and contact information.

Please note that no information that could identify the author should be included in the manuscript. Co-authorship is allowed.

Registration fee and details

For Students (Single Author) – Rs 700; Co-authorship – Rs 1200

For Academicians/Professionals (Single Author) – Rs 1000; Co-authorship – Rs 1500

Candidates who only want to attend the conference, can get themselves registered by sending a mail at caew@nluo.ac.in along with some essential details (Name, University’s Name, Contact details) latest by 23 August 2018 (23:59 hours) Registration Fee (for candidates who only want to attend the conference)- Rs 400

Accommodation: Rs 500 per day/per head

Mode of Payment will be conveyed to the participants after the shortlisting of abstracts is done.

Contact: For submissions and/or queries, write to us at: caew@nluo.ac.in.

  • Meghna Lal (Convener): 9406955452
  • Ayushi Hatwal (Co-convener): 8763276308
Click HERE for Information Brochure.

Amendments to existing lawsLegislation Updates

Underlining the effort to protect the environment and human health from infectious bio-medical waste, the Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 Rules have been amended to improve compliance and strengthen the implementation of environmentally sound management of biomedical waste in India.

These amendments have been made vide Notification G.S.R. 234(E) dated 16-03-2018. The amendment was undertaken after consulting Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Central Pollution Control Board, State Pollution Control Boards, and Health Care Facilities.

The salient features of the Bio-Medical Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 are

  • Bio-medical waste generators including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, dispensaries, veterinary institutions, animal houses, pathological laboratories, blood banks, health care facilities, and clinical establishments will have to phase out chlorinated plastic bags (excluding blood bags) and gloves by 27-03-2019.
  • All healthcare facilities shall make available the annual report on its website within a period of 2 years from date of publication of the Bio-Medical Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018.
  • Operators of common bio-medical waste treatment and disposal facilities shall establish bar coding and global positioning system for handling of bio-medical waste in accordance with guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board by 27-03-2019.
  • The State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees have to compile, review and analyze the information received and send its information to the Central Pollution Control Board in a new Form (Form IV A), which seeks detailed information regarding district-wise bio-medical waste generation, information on Health Care Facilities having captive treatment facilities, information on common bio-medical waste treatment and disposal facilities.
  • Every occupier, i.e. a person having administrative control over the institution and the premises generating biomedical waste shall pre-treat the laboratory waste, microbiological waste, blood samples, and blood bags through disinfection or sterilization on-site in the manner as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) or guidelines on safe management of wastes from health care activities and WHO Blue Book 2014 and then sent to the Common bio-medical waste treatment facility for final disposal.

[Press Release no. 1526326, dt. 24-03-2018]

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

NewsTreaties/Conventions/International Agreements

The Union Cabinet has approved the signing of a ‘Memorandum of Cooperation’ between India and France in the field of environment. The Memorandum of Cooperation will enable establishment and promotion of closer and long-term cooperation between the countries in the field of environment protection and management of natural resources on the basis of equity, reciprocity and mutual benefits, taking into account the applicable laws and legal provisions in each country. The Memorandum is expected to bring in the latest technologies and best practices suited to bringing about better environment protection, better conservation, better management of climate change and wildlife protection/conservation.

[Press Release no. 1523089]

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Taking cognizance of far reaching effects of air pollution suo motu, the  Court asked the Governments of States of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, NCT of Delhi and the centre to file affidavits before the Court explaining the steps that are being taken within their jurisdictions to minimise air pollution. The affidavits were filed before a Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and S.P. Garg, JJ.

In the aforementioned affidavits, the States gave detailed explanation of the educating and awareness programmes which are in effect along with measures taken to detect and punish persons engaged in stubble burning. The Court, after due regard to all affidavits, gave the direction to the States to file periodic status reports through further affidavits. The affidavits are to be filed not later than by the second Tuesday of every alternative month, the next date being before 14th November, 2017. The affidavits are to be standardized and are to include the following particulars:

· Steps towards education and awareness relating to ills of stubble burning.

· Notifications, if issued, along with amendments/modifications if applicable.

· The number of times Standing Committees met during the interregnum period to monitor the progress of work done and progress, along    with copies of the minutes.

· The number of persons booked for stubble burning.

· Progress achieved in regard to research and development or alternative practices.

The Court further stated that it required the Union Secretaries, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare to explore the possibility of creating a fund for innovation in farming techniques in coordination with such educational or technical institutions as are feasible to innovate new methods which are efficient and environment friendly. The Court directed the three Secretaries to hold a meeting in this regard within three weeks. The Central Government, may also create a fund and a Task Force in this regard, said the Court. The next hearing will take place on 29th August, 2017. [Court on its own Motion (Air Pollution in Delhi) v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 9428, order dated 18.07.2017]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): While expressing concern over pollution caused due to illegal disposal of effluent and waste, NGT directed Century Pulp and Paper Ltd. to pay Rs 30 lakh as environmental compensation for failing in managing pollution caused due to the effluents discharged in the stream which joins Gola River which flows into Ram Ganga and finally into Ganga. “The effluents exceeding the permissible norms being released in the environment are bound to cause environmental imbalance placing the flora and fauna under illegitimate stress and in the long run such effluents are bound to have deleterious effect on the environment. Considering the period of industrial activity and the volume of daily effluent generated we are of the considered opinion that the respondent no. 6- paper industry is liable to pay damages of Rs 30 lakhs,” the Tribunal noted. Said directions of the Tribunal came upon an application filed by an environmental activist and Member Secretary of organisation “People for Animals for Uttrakhand”, seeking directions to immediately stop discharge of harmful toxic effluents without any treatment and disposing wastes in forest and other revenue areas. After going through all the material on record, NGT noted that the paper industry had contributed to the environmental pollution in some measure and the degree of contribution to pollution is immaterial while deciding the liability of polluter. After imposing fine upon the Paper Company, NGT also constituted a team of senior scientists from the department of Environment Science, University of Jammu, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and IIT Roorkee, to carry out survey and study of the area and the Gola River to ascertain environmental degradation caused and also suggest remedial measures for restoration of environment. Century Pulp and Paper Ltd. was also directed to pay a cost of Rs three lakh to the applicant. [Gauri Maulekhi v. Union of India, Original Application No. 486 of 2014, decided on May 4, 2016]

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT):While quashing the environmental clearance of a 450-bed super-specialty hospital in Faridabad granted by Haryana’s State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), NGT directed the developers and promoters of the project to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 6.88 crore for “degrading the environment”, and another Rs 5 crore for having started the project without obtaining environmental clearance. The Tribunal also directed that the super-specialty hospital, started by Vivekanand Ashram Society and QRG Medicare Ltd., would not carry out any activity in the entire premises and ordered the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCP) and Haryana’s Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) to seal the premises if any activity was carried out. The order of the Tribunal came on an appeal filed by an environmental activist, who claimed that rules and regulations of Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) regarding land use does not permit construction of a super-specialty hospital at the site in question as the said land was initially allotted to the Vivekanand Ashram Society for establishing a residential school and a social development centre but was taken over for constructing a 450-bed multi- specialty hospital by QRG Medicare Ltd. After perusal of the material on record, NGT observed, “These are not innocent people unaware of the law residing in some remote parts of the country, all these are builders constructing huge residential, commercial, mixed-purpose blocks, like hospital, as in the present case. The project proponents are persons having large means and perspicacity. These projects started after the 2006 notification came into force, but the proponents did not even bothered to apply for the grant of environmental clearance.” The Tribunal, though, refused to order the demolition of the hospital at this stage but asked the State Government to constitute an independent committee to inspect the site and make recommendations to ensure that the project proponents complies with all the relevant laws, particularly in relation to the protection of environment, ecology, water and air pollution and to give its findings within 45 days. (Krishan Lal Gera v. State of Haryana, 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 194, decided on 25-8-2015)

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): While restraining Kumar Resorts, Amusement Pvt. Ltd. and Dhiraj Kumar Infrastructure India Pvt. Ltd. from hill-cutting for constructing a resort-cum hotel on a hill top at Lonavala, NGT also directed the developers to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the National Association for the Blind’s (NAB) welfare home. The said developers were constructing a resort-cum-hotel on a hill top at Lonavala and were allegedly causing environmental degradation and also endangering property of a welfare home for ageing blind located adjacent to the construction site. NGT also imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on the developers for illegal hill cutting and excavation of minor minerals that posed a potential threat of landslides, mudslides and damage to the welfare home. The Tribunal’s order came on an application filed by Lonavala-based NAB Lions Home for Aging Blind against the leading resort and Amusement Company. It was alleged in the application that Kumar Resorts acquired the adjoining plot on eastern side of the welfare home and the developers intended to construct a resort and a big hotel at the hilltop. It was further alleged that leveling of land by flattening of the hill area and cutting of trees by the developers could lead to soil erosion, landslides/mudslides, which posed a threat of damage to the welfare home property and the lives of its residents. During the course of proceedings, NGT appointed an expert committee, which found the claims to be true. “The expert committee perused record of rights and other records. The committee came to the conclusion that the hill has been privately and clandestinely cut and, therefore, prime concern now is prevention of landslides/mudslides,” the Tribunal observed. While awarding the compensation, Tribunal also warned the developers of sealing and selling off their premises if they fail to make the payment within the stipulated period. “The Revenue Officers like Collector and Commissioner, may call report from the local Municipal Council of Khandala and Lonavala and like places such as Satara, Kolhapur etc. where existence of hills ordinarily are noticeable in order to avoid instances of hill-cutting, being undertaken under guise of obtaining extraction permission for minor mineral and direct them not to issue permissions for construction on top of the hills, except for Bamboo huts/cottages,” NGT added in its order, NAB Lions Home for Aging Blind v. Kumar Resorts, 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 6, decided on May 26. 2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): National Green Tribunal has imposed a penalty of Rs 117.35 crore and Rs 22.5 crore on Mantri Tech Zone Pvt. Ltd. and Core Mind Software and Services Ltd. respectively, for commencing the construction work of two projects on the catchment area of Agara and Bellandur lakes in Bangalore even before obtaining the Environmental Clearance. Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project has been constructed by Mantri Tech Zone Pvt Ltd and another project by Core Mind Software and Services Ltd. in the area. NGT arrived at the amount of said penalty by calculating five per cent of the respective project costs. Though usual penalty imposed upon in such cases is 10 per cent, NGT observed that as the projects were big, the penalty was slashed in this case. The Tribunal, though, declined to pass an order or direction to stop further progress or demolition of the project; it imposed restrictions on creating third party rights by way of sale or lease. The order imposing penalty upon the two companies came upon an application filed by The Forward Foundation (a charitable trust), Praja RAAG society and Bangalore Environment Trust seeking direction to save the ecologically-sensitive valley between the Bangalore city’s two lakes; Agara and Bellandur and alleging that two companies were involved in the construction of an SEZ park, hotels, apartments and a mall on around 80 acres of land, which was a catchment area. It was further alleged that the project has encroached an Ecologically Sensitive Area, namely, the valley and the catchment area and “Rajakaluves” (Storm Water Drains) which drains rain water into the Bellandur Lake. After perusal of documents on record which included reports prepared by a Committee chaired by Justice N.K. Patil and also a report prepared by ENVIS, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, NGT noted, “There is sufficient material by way of reports, google images and other documents that the Bellandur Lake and even other lakes for that matter have wetlands and catchment areas.” NGT further noted that there was a definite possibility of environment, ecology, lakes and the wetlands being adversely affected by these projects. While observing that the project’s proponents were liable to pay compensation under the ‘Polluter Pays’ Principle, for the illegal and unauthorised construction carried on in violation of environmental laws and prior to the granting of Environmental Clearance, the Tribunal imposed penalty upon the Companies. The Tribunal also formed an eight-member committee to inspect the projects in question and submit a report to the Tribunal, on continuance of the projects. The Forward Foundation v. State of Karnataka, 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 5, decided on May 7, 2015

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): “While rejecting the contention of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) that it was difficult to trace the decade old document and observing that ‘failure to trace records’ would not exempt the public authority from their duty to provide the information sought,” CIC directed the Ministry to post the records related to Rs 16,000-crore Indira Sagar Polavaram project in West Godawari District, A.P., on its website. The Commission was hearing an appeal filed by a person whose RTI application seeking information in relation to environmental clearance granted to the said project, was not responded. In appeal, though the First Appellate Authority directed PIO to make all efforts to trace the record and provide the relevant information, said information was not provided. Against the non-compliance, appellant approached CIC, and alleged that he was denied information on the ground that the record sought was ‘decade old’ and the documents were scattered at different places due to shifting of the office, thus describing them as non-traceable. The appellant further submitted that this statement itself indicates grave negligence and utter failure of the Ministry in keeping the precious public records of a significant project to which the government accorded national status. In its defense, Ministry submitted that the delay in furnishing information was because of exigencies related to various projects, court cases before the Supreme Court, National Green Tribunal, and High Court besides Parliament related works. After hearing both the parties, CIC directed MoEF to place all available information of Polavaram project on their official website as per Section 4 (1); (b) subject to Section 8 of RTI Act, so that information requirements are effectively answered as Polavaram project was very significant for Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Chattisgarh, and was declared as National Project.. The Commission also directed PIO to furnish copies relating to Environmental Clearance at first instance, and also when the issue of Environmental Clearance was revisited for Indira Sagar Polavaram project in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, file notings and correspondences along with minutes of meeting in 2009, copies of letters by the Ministry to State of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and their response thereof. (D. Suresh Kumar v. PIO, Ministry of Environment & Forests, 2015 SCC OnLine CIC 608, decided on 30.04.2015)

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): NGT has directed Delhi Tourism and Transportation Corporation (DTTC) to get an environmental clearance for the under construction “Signature Bridge” over the Yamuna river at Wazirabad in Delhi. “Signature Bridge” across River Yamuna is an eight-lane wide bridge, connecting Eastern and Western parts of Delhi. The total area of Signature Bridge Project is 1,55,260 sq. mtrs. and it is under construction since 2008. The order of NGT came upon an application filed by an environmentalist, who had alleged that construction of the said bridge started without obtaining prior Environmental Clearance from the Regulatory Authority in terms of the provisions of the Environment Clearance Regulations, 2006 and construction of the bridge is likely to impact River Yamuna and river hydrology adversely. In its defense, DTTC submitted that it had applied to the MoEF for seeking Environmental Clearance for execution of the project but it was informed by MoEF, that ‘Bridges’ are not covered under the Regulations of 2006 and as such Environmental Clearance is not required. After perusal of material on record, NGT directed Delhi government to seek environmental clearance within three weeks and further noted, “As more than 80 per cent of the bridge has been completed… we do not direct demolition thereof in public interest. However, we direct SEIAA to put such terms and conditions as may be necessary to ensure that there are no adverse impacts on environment, ecology, biodiversity and environmental flow of River Yamuna and its floodplain.”(Vikrant Kumar Tongad v. Delhi Tourism and Transportation Corpn., 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 3, decided on February 12, 2015)