M.C. Mehta v. Union of India – Delhi Ridge Case

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MC Mehta v. Union of India, (Delhi Ridge Case)
Equivalent Citations: AIR 2004 SC 4016
Petitioner: M.C. Mehta
Vs.
Respondent: Union of India & ors.
Bench: Y.K. Sabharwal & H.K. Sema.
Date of judgment: 18/03/2004

Background 
The issue in this case was whether the mining activity in area up to 5 kms from the Delhi-Haryana border on the Haryana side of the ridge and also in the Aravalli hills causes environmental degradation and what directions are required to be issued.

Issue Raised 

  1. Whether the mining activity in area up to 5 kilometers from the Delhi-Haryana border on the Haryana side of the ridge and Aravalli hills causes environment degradation?
  2. Whether the mining activity deserves to be absolutely banned or permitted on compliance of stringent conditions and by monitoring it to prevent the environmental pollution?

Submissions and proceedings 

Haryana Pollution Control Board (HPCB) reported that explosives are being used for rock blasting for the purpose of mining.Mining operations were resulting in soil erosion and causing an ecological disaster. It was recommended by the HPCB that an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) should be prepared by mine lease holders for their mines and mines should be made operative only after the approval of HPCB.The report recommended a complete stoppage of mining activities within a radius of 5 kms from Badkal Lake and Surajkund (a tourist place) in Haryana.The Haryana Government thereafter stopped all mining operations on the basis of this report.

The mine operators raised objections to the recommendations of stoppage of mining operations. According to them, the pollution that was generated by the mining activities cannot go beyond a distance of 1 km and the stoppage was unjustified.

NEERI also submitted it report which recommended a complete closure of mining operation in the concerned area.

On the basis of the reports submitted by NEERI and HPCB, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that the mining activities in the vicinity of tourist resorts are bound to cast serious impact on the local ecology and environment. The mining brings extensive alteration in the natural land profile of the area.The ambient air in the mining area gets highly polluted by the dust generated by the blasting operations, vehicular movement, loading, unloading, transportation and the exhaust gases from equipment and machinery used in the mining operations.

In order to preserve environment and control pollution within the vicinity of two tourist resorts, it was necessary to stop mining activity within 2 kilometer radius of the tourist resorts of Badkal Lake and Surajkund. The Court further directed the Director of HPCB to enforce all the recommendations of NEERI.The court stated that any failure to comply with the recommendations may result in the closure of the mining operations and that the mining leases within the area from 2 kms to 5 kms radius shall not be renewed without obtaining prior No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the HPCB and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). 

With respect to the second issue, the court directed the Environmental Pollution Central Authority (EPCA)to submit a report with respect to the environment in the area after a personal visit. The personal visit was to be made without any prior notice.

During the visit the EPCA found evidence of clear violation of some of the key conditions of order of this court dated May 10, 1996.EPCA saw no evidence that this recommendation had even been attempted to be followed.

On the basis of study and visit as well as the report of the Central Ground Water Board, EPCA made the following recommendations –

  1. Ban on the mining activities and pumping of ground water in and from an area up to 5 kms. from the Delhi-Haryana border
  2. All efforts must be made to ensure that the local economy is rejuvenated, with the use of plantations and local water harvesting based opportunities.
  3. The Central Ground Water Board must be consulted urgently about what should be done with the huge standing water in the area.
  4. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) should be asked to extend the notification under the Environment (Protection) Actto the Faridabad part of the Aravalli and ridge as well.
  5. The mining area outside the 5 kms area must be demarcated and regulated. 
  6. Constant monitoring of the area must be done by a Central Government agency. The environment management plan (EMP) for the mining area as well as the conditions of the NOC should be made a public document.

The mines inspected by EPCA were below 150 feet (45 meters) and on checking it was found that most mines were further operating at 20-100 feet (6-30 meters) below water levels. This meant that the mines were abstracting water from the confined aquifer which resulted in lowering of ground water levels.

The NOC given by the Central Pollution Control Board includes an explicit condition regarding ground water: “That the mine owner will ensure that there is no discharge of effluent or ground water outside lease premises. They must take measures for rain water harvesting and reuse of water so as not to affect the ground water table in the areas. Most importantly, it stipulates that there should be no mining operations shall be carried out in the water table area.”

EPCA was concerned that if mining is allowed to continue in this area, it will have serious implications for the groundwater reserve which is the only source of drinking water in the area.

The Court held that the mining operations are hazardous to the nature and relied on T.N. Godavarman case[1] to note that a balance has to be struck between development and environment protection.  The court also relied on Principle 15 of Rio Conference of 1992 relating to the applicability of precautionary principle which stipulates that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for proposing effective measures to prevent environmental degradation is also required to be kept in view.

Precautionary principle requires anticipatory action to be taken to prevent harm. The harm can be prevented even on a reasonable suspicion. It is not always necessary that there should be direct evidence of harm to the environment.

The Court relied on Section 18 of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act which talks about the commencement of mining activities. It was held that a mining lease holder is not only required to comply with MMRD Act but other statutory provisions as well such as Environment (protection) Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and control of Pollution) Act, 1981, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Mere approval of the mining plan by Government of India, Ministry of Mines would not absolve the lease holder from complying with the other provisions under other environmental laws.

The court relied on Rules 31 to 41 in Chapter V of the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988 framed under Section 18 of the MMRD Act whichdeals with the measures required to be taken by the lessee for the protection of environment from any adverse effect of mining or irreversible consequences thereof.

These rules state that that holder of the mining lease shall take all precautions for the protection of the environment while conducting mining operations. The holder must keep the waste rocks, rejects and fines generated during mining operations in separate dump to prevent air pollution. Wherever possible, the waste rock and overburden shall be deposited back into the mines excavation with a view to restoring the land for its original use as far as possible. If it is not feasible during mining operation, the waste dumps shall be suitably made waste rock should be deposited.Air pollution due to fines, dust and smoke or gaseous emissions during mining operations and related activities should be controlled and kept within ‘permissible limits’ specified under various environmental laws of the country including the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 by the holder of mining lease.

The Court held that these rules should be strictly complied with for the protection of the environment.

The Court relied on a report prepared by the Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDI).The Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDI) on being asked by the Central Pollution Control Board to conduct a study of environmental problems of Aravalli hills. The CMPDI recommended that the State government should improve inter-departmental coordination among various government departments to achieve a common goal which is ecological restoration of area affected by these mining operations. There should be a master plan which indicates the proposed eco- restoration plan to compensate the environmental degradation.

There were no objection raised to the recommendations of CMPDI and these recommendations were accepted by the Supreme Court in principle.

 Final Order

  1. The mining activity can be permitted only on the basis of sustainable development and on compliance of stringent conditions.
  2. The Aravalli hill range has to be protected at any cost. In case despite stringent condition, there is an adverse irreversible effect on the ecology in the Aravalli hill range area, at a later date, the total stoppage of mining activity in the area may have to be considered. For similar reasons such step may have to be considered in respect of mining in Faridabad District as well.
  3. Violation of any of the conditions would entail the risk of cancellation of mining lease. The mining activity shall continue only on strict compliance of the stipulated conditions. The matters are directed to be listed after reopening of courts after summer vacation on receipt of the report from the Monitoring Committee.

[References]

[1]T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India and ors.[1999] A.I.R. S.C. 2420

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