Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra & Ors. vs. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.

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847
Also Known as - RLEK Vs. State of U.P 
Equivalent citations: 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169
Petitioner: 
Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra & Ors. 
Respondent: 
State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.
Date of Judgement:
12/03/1985
Bench:
Bhagwati, P.N. Sen, Amarendra Nath (J) Misra Rangnath

Facts of the case

This case is also famously known as the ‘Dehradun Valley litigation’. In Mussoorie hill range of Himalayas, the activity of quarrying was being carried out. 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, which is an illegal practice per se.

Due to lack of vegetation, many landslides occurred which killed villagers and destroyed their homes, cattle and agricultural lands. In 1961, mining was prohibited in the state by the state minister of mines. However, quarry operations reopened the mining operations by successfully lobbying with the chief Minister of the state under which they got mining leases for 20 years. This led to corrupt and illegal practices and still there was no enforcement of safety rules.

In 1982, eighteen leases came up for renewal, which were rejected by the State on account of the ecological destruction. However, an injunction was granted by the Allahabad High Court which allowed the applicants to continue mining, giving the reason that economic benefits outweighed ecological factors.

In 1983, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra sent a letter of complaint to the Supreme Court which was against environmental degradation. The Court treated the letter as a writ petition under article 32. More than 100 mines joined this and the litigation became complex. The Supreme Court conducted a review of the need for mining operations and provided for funding and administrative oversight of reforestation of the region.

Contentions Raised

It was contended by the mining operators that the case should be dismissed by the court and the issue should be left to the administrative authorities under the Environment Protection. The counsel for the miners relied on the following statement of a 1986 opinion issued in the case: 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. The Court rejected the miners’ arguments the ground that the litigation had already commenced and significant orders had been issued by the court before the adoption of the Environment Protection Act. There was no conflict in the opinions of the court and the Central Government in the instant case.

In 1983, the Court prohibited blasting operations, while it was reviewing to determine whether the mines were being operated in compliance with the safety standards as laid down in the Mines Act of 1952 and other relevant mining regulations. The Court appointed an expert committee (the Bhargava Committee) to assess the mines. 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 second committee (the Bandyopadhyay Committee) 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. The Uttar Pradesh government was directed to provide 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 determined that a third group of mines, including a major operation owned by the state of Uttar Pradesh, could remain open because the environmental damage was less clear.

In 1987, the court reviewed the Bandyopadhyay committee’s report. This report was based on ecological considerations. The court concluded that mining in the Valley should cease. The Court restated the conclusion that mining activity should only be permitted to the extent it is necessary in the interests of the defence of the country and safeguarding of the foreign exchange position.

The Court rejected the first affidavit from the Central Government, submitted by the Director of Environment, Forests and Wildlife in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The affidavit provided detailed uses of limestone for industrial operations within Uttar Pradesh but did not provide a satisfactory evaluation of other sources of the limestone within India and the extent to which national defence industries relied on the limestone. A second affidavit contained all the required evaluation and concluded that the continuing of mining operations of any mine in the Dehradun-Mussoorie Region was not justified on the ground that it is a requirement of the defence industries.

In 1988, the Court concluded that all the mines in Dehradun Valley should remain closed, except three operations. Although the Dehradun Valley mining operations occupied 800 hectares of reserved forests and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was in effect in 1982, when the lessees applied to the State Government approval for the mining operations.

This failure reflected confusion as to whether the requirement of the Act applied to renewal of leases or not, which had originally been granted before the Act came into force. This question was resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Ambika Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat[1].The Court held that the state government may renew pre-existing mining leases only with the review and approval of the centre, as required under the Forest Conservation Act.

In 1988, in the Dehradun Valley litigation, the court concluded that continued mining in the valley violated the Forest Conservation Act. The court even went beyond the requirements of the Act to conserve forest and issued orders to ensure that the valley be reforested. It also noted that although the state of Uttar Pradesh had a reforestation programme, the record of reforestation was not encouraging.

Later a Monitoring committee was established by the court. It comprised of the Central, State, and Local officials and two ‘public-spirited’ citizens to oversee reforestation, mining activities and ‘all other aspects necessary to bring about normalcy in the Doon Valley’. The court also provided the Monitoring Committee with funding by ordering that 25 per cent of the gross profit of the remaining mines be deposited in a fund controlled by the committee. Vijay Shree Mines, one of the lessee permitted by the court to operate until the expiry of its lease in 1990, misused the permission.

The lessee continued to quarry limestone in an unscientific manner and in disregard of the directions issued by the Monitoring committee. In an application filed by the committee, the court held that the mining activity secretly carried on by Vijay Shree Mines had caused immense damage to the area and directed the firm to pay Rs. 3 lakhs to the fund of the Monitoring committee.

An outcome of the Dehradun Valley litigation was the ARC Cement Case. ARC Cement operated a cement factory in the valley since November, 1982 until restrained by an order of the court. The company employed about 400 persons. In 1987, the Supreme Court declined permission to ARC to open its polluting cement factory and encouraged the company to shift it elsewhere.

When the matter came up four years later, the Supreme Court was unsatisfied by the progress, primarily because the company had failed to propose an alternative site. The Court held that it cannot go back upon its earlier order and the cement factory shall not be permitted to run at the site and therefore shifting of place has to be done. The petitioner was permitted to indicate some alternative site so that there would be an option available to the State Government and the Pollution Board to consider which of the sites offered may be acceptable to them for shifting the cement factory from the present location.

In November 1991, the Supreme Court recorded some of the terms of a general understanding between the company and the UP State Mineral Development Corporation for the supply of limestone and other related issues. No consensus was reached on a new site and while disposing the case the court acknowledged that certain aspects of the arrangement remained to be negotiated between the parties. The efforts to relocate the cement factory failed and in February 1995, ARC Cement was ordered to wound up by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction.

Judgment

In the Dehradun Valley Litigation case, the Central Government had become concerned about the destructive mining operations in the Valley at the same time when the Supreme Court took up the issue. In 1983, the Government of India appointed a Working Group to inspect the limestone quarries in the Dehradun-Mussoorie area. The same individual, D.N. Bhargava, headed both the government’s Working Group and the court’s committee came to similar conclusions as to the harmful effect of the mines on the environment. The Working Group also prepared reports for the court on the few mining operations, which were allowed to remain open. During the course of the litigation, in 1986, Parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act.

After this, the Valley was designated as an ecologically fragile area under the Environment Protection Act. In addition, the centre appointed a Doon Valley Board, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Environment and Forests, which was charged with conserving and restoring degraded areas of the Valley.  The Supreme Court concluded that mining in reserved forests in the Dehradun valley violated the Forest Conservation Act. However, the Forest Conservation Act only prohibits non-forest activities on forest lands that do not have the approval of the Central Government.  In addition to ecological integrity and national interests, the Supreme Court was also concerned with the welfare of mine operators and laborers left unemployed by closure of the Dehradun Valley operations. The Court issued the following directions:

  1. Orders that mine lessees whose operations were terminated by the court would be given priority for leases in new areas open to limestone mining.
  2. Orders that 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.

Case comment

The Constitution of India guarantees the Right to wholesome environment as a fundamental right under Article 21. Industrialization leads to development which further leads to the degradation of environment. To resolve this issue, the doctrine of sustainable development has come up. i.e., there must be balance between development and ecology. Environmental degradation is not justified on the stake of national interest. According to the socio-economic needs of the country, administrative and legislative strategies for harmonizing environmental and developmental values should be formulated.

Courts play a very crucial role in determining the scope of the powers and functions of administrative agencies and in striking a balance between the environment and development. The need of the hour is to strike a balance between the two i.e., development on one side and pollution free environment on the other.

A process by which development can be sustained for generations by improving the quality of human life while at the same time living in harmony with nature and maintaining the carrying capacity of life supporting eco-system. Its main focus is the integration of developmental and environmental imperatives. Thus, sustainable development is the only answer and administrative actions ought to proceed in accordance therewith.

[References]

[1]1987 AIR 1073, 1987 SCR (1) 562.

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Risha Kulshrestha
I am Risha Kulshrestha. I am pursuing my BA LLB. degree from Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru. I am in second year. I really like to research and attend seminars and workshops because they add on to my learning process. I am interested in human rights at present because I haven't studied many law subjects as of now. I like reading books, more specifically fiction. After the completion of my degree I want to opt for teaching as my career. This is because I feel that teaching is one of the few professions which do justice to the society by contributing to its development. Essentially, I believe that if you have used society's resource and have achieved what you wanted, then you should try to give it back to the society which will ensure your holistic development as an individual.