“Environmental compensation” of Rs 50 crore imposed upon thirteen firms for illegal sand mining on the banks of River Yamuna

National Green Tribunal (NGT): While imposing a complete prohibition on carrying on of any mining of minor minerals (Bajri, Sand and Boulders) in the flood plain of river Yamuna in the district Yamunanagar (Haryana) and Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh) and all other villages situated on the bank of river Yamuna and rivers Kaluwala Rao, Solani and Badshahibagh Rao for a period of 45 days from passing of the judgment, NGT also asked the five lease holders to pay “environmental compensation” of Rs 50 crore for and on behalf of 13 mine lease firms for carrying out excessive unauthorised mining resulting in damage and degradation of environment. Said order of the Tribunal came upon the applications filed by two environmentalists who complained of rampant illegal mining of minor minerals like sand, boulders, etc, in Saharanpur and, more particularly, on the river banks and river bed of the Yamuna.  Applicants alleged that there was a cartel which was running for more than last 10 years and carrying on this activity, causing serious environmental degradation. After perusal of the report of Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court for site inspection and other material on record, NGT observed that there was clear evidence of illegal mining and transportation of minor minerals as well as operation of stone crushers/screening plants in district Saharanpur. Furthermore, it also became evident that illegal mining was being carried on by the lessees either in the areas beyond the areas specified in the mining lease, or beyond the prescribed depth and also by incorrectly describing and under invoicing the quantity of the minerals in the transit permits used for transportation. “The operators of mines and stone crushers who have been operating without the consent of the state boards, violating the laws, operating without environmental clearance (EC), operating in violation of conditions of the EC and operating without consent of the Central Ground Water Authority as well as causing air and water pollution and have degraded and damaged the environment, ecology and biodiversity with reference to Yamuna and its riverbed and affected the lives of the residents of various villages, falling under these districts on the bank of river Yamuna,” noted the Tribunal. While NGT imposed a fine of 50 crore upon the firms, an environmental compensation of Rs 2.5 crore was also slapped upon a Saharanpur based stone crusher Firm for illegally operating stone crushing units without obtaining consent from the state pollution control board. The Tribunal also issued other directions in the matter, which included constitution of a high powered committee to provide complete mechanism for establishing check posts to ensure that there is no illegal transportation of mined minerals in these areas, check on over- loading, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments were directed to submit a complete and comprehensive mining plan to the panel, it was also directed that mining activity (if at all permitted) should be carried out in a semi-mechanised and scientific manner or totally non-mechanised manner and if any person was found to be violating these directions and carrying on mining of minor minerals then such person would be liable to pay Rs 5 lakhs as environmental compensation for each such event. [Gurpreet Singh Bagga v. Ministry of Environment and Forests, 2016 SCC OnLine NGT 92, decided on February 18, 2016]

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