Also orders for compensation to be determined for environmental degradation
Srinagar: The J&K High Court on Friday ordered the government to immediately halt all illegal mining auctions in river basins and streams in the Union Territory and appoint technical/ professional persons or agencies to oversee the impact of mining in different river basins before giving out clearances for the same.
The court directed the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir to take immediate steps for appointing professional and qualified persons/ agencies for technically and scientifically evaluating, within strict time frames, the issues of fixation of the reserved prices of minerals, the terms and conditions on which auctions/ tenders for grant of all mineral concessions are conducted, and that recommendations of the experts so appointed be implemented in public interest.
Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Puneet Gupta in a 279- page judgement recorded that natural resources were “public goods” and the Doctrine of Equality must guide the State in determining the actual mechanism for distribution of natural resources.
“Removal of minor minerals/ boulders/ gravels/ quarries etc from river beds is recognised as a major cause of environment degradation. It is also considered a threat to bio-diversity resulting from bed degradation, sedimentation, destruction of riverine vegetation, erosion, pollution of water sources, amongst other consequences thereof,” the Division Bench said while referring to Supreme Court directives.
The court also referred to one more directive of Supreme Court mentioning that without conducting any study on the possible environmental impact on/ in the riverbeds and elsewhere, the auction notices have been issued.
“We are of the considered view that when we are faced with a situation where extraction of alluvial material within or near a riverbed has an impact on the river’s physical habitat characteristics, like river stability, flood risk, environmental degradation, loss of habitat, decline in biodiversity, it is not an answer to say that the extraction is in blocks of less than 5 ha, separated by 1 km, because their collective impact may be significant, hence the necessity of a proper environmental assessment plan,” the court recorded.
On this, the court further directed the Chief Secretary of the Union Territory to appoint a Committee of Experts on the lines of directions given by the Supreme Court in a case titled National Green Tribunal Bar Association vs Virendra Singh (State of Gujarat), as well as order dated 13 September, 2018 in LPA No.53/2020 to assess the components and scales of compensation and recommend measures of reparation for acts and omissions of the appellants which have resulted in environmental degradation.
“The Chief Secretary of the Union Territory shall appoint a nodal officer/ committee of officers to compute the scale of compensation as recommended by the Committee as above with a time-bound mandate to issue notices to show cause to the appellants with regard to payment of compensation, if any, consideration of the responses, making appropriate determination of liability and effecting recoveries thereof,” the court directed.
Earlier, the litigants had challenged a common judgment dated 1 May, 2020, passed by a Single Judge dismissing 16 writ petitions filed before both the Wings of this Court inter alia challenging the communication of the Department of Industries and Commerce of the Government dated 26.02.2019 conveying the approval of the c authority to the scrapping of the open auction carried under the J&K Minor Minerals Concession, Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016 and providing further that fresh auctions would be carried out only through e-auction mode.