Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Case- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Also called- Dehradun Valley Litigation

Citation- 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169

Court- Supreme Court of India

Bench- Bhagwati, P.N.

              Sen, Amarendra Nath

              Mishra Rangnath

Petitioner- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun

Respondent-  State of Uttar Pradesh

Date of judgement- March 12, 1985

 

Facts

  • Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) is a non-governmental organization with its work base situated in Uttarakhand, India.
  • In Mussoorie hill range of Himalayas, the activity of quarrying was being carried out on a large scale.
  • Limestone was extracted by blasting out the hills with dynamite. This also resulted in cave-ins and slumping because the mines dug deep into the hillsides.
  • All this was being done in an illegal manner.
  • Due to lack of vegetation, many landslides occurred which killed villagers along with animals and destroyed their homes, cattle and agricultural lands. Perennial water springs were being affected adversely. 
  • River courses were choked by the sludge and rubble of mines which increased the danger of floods.
  • In 1961, mining was prohibited in the state by the state minister of mines. But, again mining work started and lease for mining for a period of 20 years was given. Ths revived the hazardous mining and illegal activities without any safety measures and continuously causing harm to the environment . 
  • In 1982, eighteen leases came up for renewal, and the same were rejected by the state government on the grounds of ecological destruction. However, an injunction on this cancellation of lease was granted by the Allahabad High Court which allowed the applicants to continue mining, giving the reason that ecological factors cannot outweigh economic benefits.
  • In the year 1983,  the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra sent a letter of complaint to the Supreme Court which was concerning the environmental degradation in the Mussoorie hills due to excessive mining and quarrying activities and the damages caused to the environment by those activities.
  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court treated that application as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court issued Show Cause Notice to the mine-owners in return of which more than 100 mine-owners joined this litigation and it became more complex.

Contentions Raised

Petitioner 

  • Mining work is causing large scale pollution in the area and therefore it requires that it should be stopped immediately.
  • Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra pleaded that Article 21 of the Constitution provides Right to life and personal liberty and pollution free environment is a part of it. If mining and quarrying continues in that area then it would affect the environment and lives of people which would be a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. 

Defendant 

  • It was contended by the defendants (mining operators) that the case should be dismissed by the court and the entire issue should be left to the administrative authorities under the Environment Protection.
  • The counsel for the miners relied on the statement issued in a case which stated that: ‘It is for the Government and the Nation and not for the court to decide whether the deposits should be exploited at the cost of ecology and environmental consideration or the industrial requirement should be otherwise satisfied’. 
  • Also, it was contended by the mine owners that if mining work is stopped then they will lose their livelihoods and this will be a great economic loss to the entire region.

Issues 

  • Whether environmental conservation should be given priority over the economic benefits of the nation?
  • Whether the requirement of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 applied to renewal of mining leases or not, which had originally been granted by the Uttar Pradesh government before the Act came into force?

Rules 

    • Article 32

      – Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by Part VI- (1) the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.

    • Article 21

      – Protection of life and personal liberty. – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

    • Forest Conservation Act, 1980

      – Limestone quarries in Doon Valley– Continuance of mining activity; Impermissibility Of mining activities.

    • Mines Act, 1952

      The safety measures adopted and the extent of harm caused.

Court Proceedings

  • The Court rejected the miners’ arguments regarding leaving the matter into the hands of administrative authorities on the ground that the litigation had already commenced and significant orders had been issued by the court.
  • The court prohibited any further mining activity in the region while it was considering the entire matter.
  • The Court appointed an expert committee, the Bhargava Committee to assess the mines. In its report, the committee classified the mines into three categories namely-‘A category mines’ which had least pronounced adverse impact, ‘B category mines’ which had a more pronounced adverse impact and ‘C category mines’ which caused large scale adverse effects and were therefore recommended to be closed down.
  • In March 1985, the court denied leases to the most dangerous mines falling within Mussoorie city and ceased their operations. This was done upon the recommendation of the Bhargava Committee.
  • The court appointed a second expert committee, the Bandyopadhyay Committee which was empowered to consider plans submitted by the miners to safeguard the environment and to hear the claims of people adversely affected by the mining.
  • Also, the Uttar Pradesh government was directed to provide all the necessary funds for the Bandyopadhyay Committee as well as ‘transport and other facilities for the purpose of enabling them to discharge their functions.’
  • The court reviewed the Bandyopadhyay committee’s report which was based on ecological considerations.
  • The Central government filed two affidavits in the Supreme Court which were submitted by the Director of Environment, Forests and Wildlife in the Ministry of Environment and Forests.. The first affidavit highlighted the extensive uses of limestone for industrial operations within Uttar Pradesh but it lacked a satisfactory analysis of the extent to which national defence industries depended on the limestone. The second affidavit contained all the required evaluation and it concluded that the continuing of mining operations in the Dehradun-Mussoorie Region was not justified on the ground that it is a prime requirement of the defence industries.

Judgement 

  • The Court concluded that if mining activities continue in the Dehradun Valley then it will cause great harm to the environment and will also violate provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
  • The Supreme Court rejected the first affidavit submitted by the Central Government. Second affidavit was taken into consideration for further proceedings.
  • The Court held that all the mines in Dehradun Valley should remain closed, except three operations.
  • This question of renewal of mining leases granted to mine owners was resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Ambica Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat where the Court held that the state government may renew pre-existing mining leases only with the review and approval of the central government, as required under the Forest Conservation Act,1980 .
  • The court even went beyond the requirements of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 to protect forest and issued orders to ensure that the valley should be reforested. It was also noted that although the state of Uttar Pradesh had a reforestation programme, the record of reforestation in the state and especially in Dehradun Valley was not encouraging and acceptable.
  • A Monitoring committee was appointed by the court which comprised the Central officials, the State officials, and the Local officials and two ‘public-spirited’ citizens to oversee reforestation, mining activities and ‘all other aspects necessary to bring about normalcy in the Dehradun Valley’.
  • The court said it is upon the government and nation to consider whether the development should be done upon the cost of ecological imbalance or not. But the court will have to intervene when it requires requisite attention in any serious way.
  • Further, the court said that industrial development was necessary for socio-economic growth of the country. But, if industrial growth is to be achieved by haphazard and reckless working of the mines resulting in loss of life, loss of property, loss of basic amenities like supply of water and creation of ecological imbalance, there may ultimately be no real economic growth and prosperity. It is necessary to strike a proper balance between the two. Appropriate authorities at the time of granting leases should take all these facts into consideration and also provide for adequate safeguards to ensure that growth does not affect the environment and ecological balance.
  • Right to live in a safe and pollution free environment is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and no one shall be deprived of that. 
  • Showing concern with the welfare of mine operators and laborers left unemployed by closure of the Dehradun Valley operations the Court issued the following directions:
  1. Mine lessees whose operations were terminated by the court would be given priority for leases in new areas open to limestone mining.
  2. The Eco-Task Force of the central department of Environment reclaim and reforest the area damaged by mining and that workers displaced by mine closure be given priority for jobs with the Eco-Task Force operations in the region.

Analysis

This is a landmark judgement in the history of development of environmental laws and judicial approach in safeguarding the environment. Through this judgement the Supreme Court has made the government more cautious about matters relating to the environment. In this case the right to live in a safe and pollution free environment got the label of Fundamental Right which is a major step in the direction of establishing a healthy environment for all living creatures. The principle of sustainable development well fits here. Growth and development have equal importance as environment and ecological balance. Development which is achieved by keeping the environment on stake will never be beneficial for the human race. 

Judiciary plays a vital role in safeguarding the environment. But still there is scope for development in environmental issues and concern regarding them. Environment related matters need to be addressed more seriously by the authorities and people. We have to create a balance and harmony between the development and the environment to ensure a better future. Also Gandhi ji has said- “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand it over to them at least as it was handed over to us.”

Author: Poorva G Chaturvedi,
Modi Law College, Kota

See also  MC mehta vs UNION OF INDIA (Shriram food and fertilizer case)

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