River sand mining: NGT directs CPCB, MoEF&CC to clarify categorisation in red or orange category within 2 months

 The National Green Tribunal has directed the Central Pollution Control Board and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to look at the categorisation of sand excavation from river beds in the red or orange category and issue appropriate notification within two months.

The CPCB categorises industries into various colours, including red and orange, based on their pollution index score. Those having scores of 60 and above are categorised in the red category, while industries with scores between 41 and 59 are classified in the orange category.

While the red category industries are provided the requisite consent to operate for five years, the validity of consent for those in the orange category is for 10 years.

The NGT was hearing a petition claiming illegal sand mining in the region of Kanpur and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.

A bench of judicial member Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi and expert member Afroz Ahmad said, “CPCB and MoEF&CC are directed to look into the matter of categorisation of excavation of sand from the river bed (excluding manual excavation) in the red or orange category and issue appropriate notification clarifying the categorisation thereof within a period of two months Till issuance of such notification, river sand mining shall continue to be treated to fall in the red category.”

Irrespective of the category in which sand mining is notified, it is mandatory for all project proponents (PPs) to obtain Consent to Establish (CTE)/Consent to Operate (CTO) from State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)/Pollution Control Committee (PCC) concerned, the bench said.

It said from September 1, no river sand mining will be allowed to operate in the entire country without obtaining consent.

“MOEF&CC is also directed to issue appropriate guidelines within a period of two months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order for ensuring that the requirement of obtaining CTE/CTO from concerned SPCB/PCC is uniformly made applicable to all the river bed sand mining projects throughout India,” the bench said.

It said in the present case, the PP, Nagendra Singh, was allowed to carry out mining activity without statutory consent throughout the five-year term of the lease.

“The facts and circumstances of the present case reveal serious violations of environmental laws/norms by the PP and serious derelictions of duty by concerned officers of the Department of Geology and Mining and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board( UPPCB),” the bench said.

“Illegal Mining has to be dealt with sternly by visiting the same with all consequences without any leniency,” the bench added.

It said though the affidavits by the officers concerned revealed “serious violations” warranting an order for their prosecution, the tribunal instead considered it appropriate to impress and direct the officers or authorities concerned to take requisite action for the protection and improvement of the environment.

“However, we also consider it appropriate to forewarn that in case such a state of affairs of non-compliance with environmental laws/norms continues, we shall be constrained to order prosecution of the officers concerned besides the PP concerned and also to execute the order/award/decision of this tribunal by arrest and detention of the defaulting officers,” the bench said.

It also deprecated the UPPCB for indulging in “contradictory practices.”

“On the one hand UPPCB is claiming that there is no mandatory requirement of CTE/ CTO from UPPCB for river bed sand mining and on the other hand UPPCB is issuing show cause notices and passing orders for the imposition of environmental compensation for not obtaining CTE/CTO from UPPCB,” the bench said.

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The tribunal also came down heavily on the stand taken by the state’s Director of Geology and Mining Department that sand mining from river beds does not cause water and air pollution.

“The stand taken by the Director that CTE/CTO from UPPCB was not mandatory/ necessary is illogical and illegal in view of the prevailing environmental acts/rules,” it said.

It ordered the director to take appropriate action against the PP for violation of rules.

Compliance reports and status reports have to be filed by the director and member secretary of the UPPCB by September 15, the tribunal said.

The matter has been posted for further proceedings on September 25.

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