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The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal at New Delhi has held that Environmental Clearance for minor mineral mining projects cannot be granted on the basis of a Regional Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA).
The Tribunal has explained that an REIA takes into its ambit an “entire region” which is made up of multiple clusters, as well as other individual lease areas, while the law mandates preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for each of the cluster along with an Environment Management Plan (EMP).
The Tribunal has also iterated that although a notification dated July 1, 2016 clarified that REIA/Regional EMP was “not alien to the process of EIA”, a bare reading of the notification would show that it pertained specifically to the State of Rajasthan, which has a large number of leases or quarry licences of very small size in the contiguous area.
The order was passed by a four-member Bench of Chairperson Justice AK Goel, Judicial Members Justices SP Wangdi and K Ramakrishnan, and Expert Member Nagin Nanda.
The case pertained to a challenge to the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to 12 minor mineral-sand/morrum mining projects on the rivers Betwa and Ken, situated in State of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from these 12, the EC granted to 24 other mining projects was also being scrutinized by the Tribunal.
It was contended by the appellant, Amit Upadhyay, that the mandatory requirements of the EIA Notification, 2006 had not been satisfied at the time of granting the EC.
According to the appellant, all the projects were granted ECs on the basis of an REIA Report which was rejected in a joint meeting of the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC). The Authority and the Committee had then advised the project proponents to submit individual Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Reports.
The project proponents, however, submitted the individual EIA Reports without undertaking any Terms of References (ToR) or without conducting “public consultations”.
It was alleged that the individual EIA Reports merely extracted from the REIA report and, therefore, the ECs were invalid.
The applicant further stated that these deficiencies were brought to the notice of the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority and other concerned authorities, but the process for grant of EC continued.
The Uttar Pradesh State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority denied all material allegations and contended that the procedure laid down under the law had not been violated while granting the ECs.
With respect to the REIA, the Authority argued that as per the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016, preparation of Regional Environmental Management Plan (REMP) was suggested for projects which were in the vicinity of each other.
Claiming that that REIA was nothing but amalgamation of individual EIAs, the Authority added that REIA was a valuable document as it captured the impact of the projects collectively which was essential for preparing and taking steps for mitigating environmental damage.
The Authority also submitted that appraisal of the projects should be on the basis of individual EIAs after considering the content of the EIA and not its source.
After hearing the parties and examining the affidavits, report filed by the Central Pollution Control Board and Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, as well as the written submissions on record, the Tribunal recorded that it was “quite evident” that all the individual ECs were based upon the REIA and no EIA studies had been carried out in respect of the individual projects.
Analysing the facts at hand, the Tribunal noted that the concerned REIA covered the entire region which had within its ambit the 20 clusters and other individual lease areas.
It thus held,
“This certainly would not satisfy the procedure laid down under Appendix XI (of the EIA Notification) read with the schematic presentation of requirements on environmental clearance of minor minerals including cluster situation. The law mandates preparation of cluster EIA for each of the cluster along with an EMP for such cluster. If the view of the State of UP, the SEIAA, UP, the Committee and the project proponents is to be accepted, the decision in Deepak Kumar & Ors. v. State of Haryana & Ors would be set at naught..”
Explaining the nature of REIA, the Tribunal observed,
“REIA is a macro level tool which only gives a representative idea of impacts in general over in a large area. It is just an indicative tool which gives a bird’s eye view of situation. Only the individual EIA or cluster based EIA can bring out individual or cluster based impacts on environment.
Relying solely on REIA or carving out individual EIAs from it cannot give or capture impacts at the micro or individual levels and the EMPs based on such Impact Assessment Studies would be just representative in macro sense and not be able to mitigate impacts at the micro level. Such a situation would result in the recipient environment being the net looser, which cannot be permitted in terms of the tenets of Precautionary Principle.”
In view of the above, the Tribunal concluded that accepting the REIA as the cluster EIA by the project proponents for the purpose of grant of Environmental Clearance was fundamentally flawed.
The Tribunal thus ordered,
“For the aforesaid reasons, we hold unhesitatingly that the ECs granted to all the mining leases fail to satisfy the requirement of the EIA Notification 2006, directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Deepak Kumar (supra), the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016 and the various Office Memorandums issued by the MoEF&CC in relation thereto. The ECs, therefore, deserve to be quashed and is accordingly ordered so.”
The Appellant was represented by Advocates Vanshdeep Dalmia, Suchakshu Jain.
ASG Pinky Anand appeared for the SEIAA.
Advocate Amit Tiwari, Shlok Chandra appeared for MoEF&CC.
Advocates Mayank Pandey, Pradeep Misra appeared for UPPCB.
Read the Order: