RURAL LITIGATION ENTITLEMENT KENDRA V. STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH
A letter was written by the Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra alleging that unauthorized and illegal mining is taking place in the Mussoorie-Dehradun Belt which is leading to environment disorder by severely affecting the ecology of those areas. This letter was registered as a writ petition under article 32 of the Indian Constitution and this was followed by another application containing allegations on a similar line. Several parties, including mining lessees, got attached to the suit either with the petitioner or on their own seeking remedy.
Whether safety standards laid down in the Mines Act of 1952 and the Mining Rules made thereunder have been followed by the mining lessees in the Mussoorie-Dehradun Belt and, and if there was any other hazard to any individual, cattle or agricultural lands on account of carrying of the mining operations.
The letters received by the Court from the Rural Litigation Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun along with the accompanying affidavits was directed to be treated as writ petition under art.32 of the Constitution and was considered to be a Public Interest Litigation.
The Court had appointed the Bhargava Committee which in its report divided the mines in 3 categories: A- Group mines, quarrying could be carried on after ensuring that there was no ecological or environmental hazard; B- Mines may not be closed down permanently but the matter should be probed further; C- Mines should be totally stopped.
The Union Government had appointed a Working Group on mining of limestone quarries in Mussoorie and Dehradun which was also headed by Mr. Bhargava. The Working Group classified the mines into two categories, Category 1 being the mines which according to them were suitable for continuing the mining operations and Category 2 being the mines which were unsuitable for continuation. The courts referred to the reports of these two committees to come to its decision.
It did not agree to the report submitted by Prof. Valdia as the court reasoned that larger importance to the geological aspect as well as reliance on Main Boundary Thrust to decide whether the mining operations are harmful or not is not suitable for the particular litigation.
The court highlighted the importance of the Himalayan Ranges on the Northern boundary of India that provides it impregnable protection from the Northern direction. The Himalayas regulates the Monsoons in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and is a source for the perennial rivers- Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra and its tributaries. It also has the lush green trees, innumerable springs, beautiful flowers and is a storehouse of herbs, shrubs and plants. The deep forests on the lower hills also plays a crucial role in regulating the weather conditions.
The court even stated the imperative aspect of the Doon Valley and how the perennial water and the fertile soil led not only to the development of lush green forests but also the yield of basmati rice and leechis. Mussoorie as well as Dehradun both have been extremely eminent tourist attractions in the past several decades and along with that have extensively contributed to education, research and the defence of the country.
The court observed that this valley is being endangered due to the erratic, uncontrolled and irrational limestone quarrying. Currently the green cover in the area is 10 person which used to be 70 percent earlier and the land has been stripped of its verdant cover.
The limestone belt played the role of an aquifer- held and released water perennially. The area has been the point of origin for several important streams such as Song, Baldi, Rispana, Kairuli and Bhaitarli but the unnecessary, excessive and continuous mining operations has adversely affected the area. The reckless mining along with careless disposal of the mine debris and random blasting operations has led to loss of water for irrigation as well as for drinking purpose. Unabated actions would lead to severe shortage of water in the entire belt.
The number of mining lessees drastically increased over the years and thereby led to a significant impact on the environment, as even explained by the reports. The mining operations in the areas mentioned are done by deforestation and waste generated due to the digging of limestone is rolled down or carried away by the rain water which has affected the villages at the lower levels along with the existing agricultural land. The blasting operations caused to disturb the natural quiet of the area, shaken the soil, loosened the rocks and disturbed the entire ecology of the area. Also, in order to clear the limestone quarried from the mines there has been interference with the hills as well as there is hazard for the local population, including animals.
The court opined that the closure of the mines would cause hardships to the owners of the mines but “it is a price that has to be paid for protecting and safeguarding the right of the people to live in healthy environment with minimal disturbance of ecological balance and without avoidable hazard to them and to their cattle, homes and agricultural land and undue affectation of air, water and environment”.
It was observed by the court that the environmental disturbances have to be weight against the need of the limestone quarries for industrial purposes. The limestone quarries in the area cover 3 percent of the total demand of the raw material and with the current rate of mining, the deposits are likely to last for about 50 years. The court opined that the rate at which the resources have to be exploited is a matter to be decided by the Government, however, there must be a balance between preservation and utilisation. It is necessary for the states to be cognizant about the fact that the consequences of such activities are far reaching and would have a long-term impact. The greenery of India would be affected and repairs wouldn’t be possible at that stage then.
The court stated that the consequences of the interference with the environment and ecology have started to realise now and it was necessary that the growth of the forests on the Himalayas is left uninterrupted. Although the use of the natural resources to some extent is necessary for the purpose of social development, requisite care and attention must be given to the ecology and the environment that they are not seriously affected. Without long term planning, the social development shouldn’t take place. The court observed that “It has always to be remembered that these (Natural Resources) our permanent assets of mankind and are not intended to be exhausted in one generation”.
Lastly, the court also referred to the Fundamental Duty of every Indian Citizen under art.51-A of the Constitution.
The limestone quarries under Category C of the Bhargava Committee Report should not be allowed to be operated. The same direction applied to the limestone quarries in the Sahasradhara Block.
Limestone quarries in the Category 2 of the Working Group Committee Report, except those in the Category B and C of the Bhargava Committee Report, should also not be allowed to be operated.
Limestone quarries under the category A of the Bhargava Committee Report and/or Category 1 of the Working Group Committee Report and falling outside the city limits should be allowed to be operated subject to the conditions under the Mines Act, 1952 and other relevant statutes. Limestone quarries under the category A of the Bhargava Committee Report and/or Category 1 of the Working Group Committee Report and falling within the city limits are to be treated in the same manner as the limestone quarries of the Category B of the Bhargava Committee Report.
A committee named Bandyopadhyay Committee was appointed to which the Limestone quarries under the category A of the Bhargava Committee Report and/or Category 1 of the Working Group Committee Report and falling within the city limits and limestone quarries of the Category B of the Bhargava Committee Report would submit their full and detailed scheme of mining the limestone quarries subject to which they could continue their operations.
In the areas where the limestone quarries have been ordered to be shut, immediate steps for the reclamation of such areas must take place and afforestation and soil-conversion programme must be initiated.
The Kendra was entitled to the Costs of the proceedings.
Author: Anshpreet Singh Chowdhary,
National Law University, Delhi. Semester II