Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
The Supreme Court of India in its ruling on May 8 has suspended all mining activities in the 448 sq. km. area of the Aravalli Hill range falling in Haryana’s districts of Faridabad and Gurgaon including Mewat. The basic reason is: The Aravallis, the most distinctive and ancient mountain chain of Peninsular India, mark the site of one of the oldest geological formations in the world. Due to its geological location, desertification is stopped and it prevents expansion of the desert into Delhi.
The essence of this observation fits in its entirety to Niyamagiri, Khandadhara and other hills of Orissa. But the Supreme Court has not looked at it.
In matters of national importance, the Supreme Court is many a times seen to have clubbed scattered but similar cases of various States, extending the impact thereof to whole of India. So, mining exploitation of natural heritages of Orissa like the Niyamagiri or Khandadhara should be given the benefit of mining ban in the Aravali hills.
When we were campaigning for declaration of Similipal as a Biosphere Reserve, in my article published in East Point on February 1, 1990, carried also by the Hindustan Times, I had shown how Orissa, standing face to face with Sahara on latitude 20 in the northern hemisphere of the glove, has been saved from desertification because of her forests. This argument was a mega factor of Similipal bagging required attention to become a Biosphere Reserve. As the Supreme Court has been pleased to observe that the Aravali hill range “prevents expansion of the desert into Delhi”, it should be pleased to note that its observation is more aptly applicable to Orissa as the State stands face to face with the Sahara, which could have engulfed the entire province by now had the hills like the Niyamagiri, Khandadhar and Similipal not prevented its advancement.
The Supreme court has banned mining in Aravallis as it was reported that the mining going on there was illegal. The illegalities located in Haryana are minor in comparison to Orissa. Hence the Supreme Court should rise to the occasion and cover Orissa mining under the Aravali rulings.
In issuing the rulings, the SC has noted, “Mining sector is regulated by a large number of environment and forest statutes. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 were enacted to implement the decisions taken in United Nations Conference on Human Environment in 1972 at Stockholm. These environment and forests statutes interact with mining regulations under Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957; Mineral Concession Rules, 1960; Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988. On account of depletion of the forest cover, we have the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which was enacted to regulate the diversion of forest area for non-forest purposes. Similarly, under the EP Act, 1986 we have several notifications, including Environment Impact Assessment Notification 1994. At the same time, mining comes under the purview of large number of mining statutes, which are required to be implemented inter alia by State Forest Departments, State Pollution Control Boards, Forest Advisory Committee(s), MoEF etc. The grant of mining leases (major and minor minerals both, including quarry leases, quarry permits, short term permits etc.) inside forest areas coming under the purview of Section 2(ii) of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. It applies to mining leases. It is important to note that in order to operate mining inside the forest area, the lessee is required to possess clearances under Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (“1957 Act”); under Section 2(ii) of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; and to Environment Clearance under EIA Notification which applies to mining of major minerals and to the areas exceeding 5 hectares. In case of mining projects, a Site Clearance is also required which is issued either by the Central Government or the State Government depending upon the area of land let out on lease. Further, Section 2(ii) of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 prohibits grant or renewal of mining lease without prior approval of Central Government”.
With the authenticity I command by virtue of the facilities available to me to look deeply into affairs of administration, I state that none of the above laws are honored in Orissa. But this State is having no social audit provision. Hence, when discrimination is not legal, the Supreme Court should test Orissa on the matrix of its own observation in Aravalli case and find out the facts through its own agency as it has done in the matter of mining in Aravalis. Till then, a temporary ban on all mining activities in Orissa should be imposed with riders that the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary as well as the Collector of the concerned District would be personally prosecuted against if any violation of the ban is found, because no mining is possible without direct or tacit support of these three functionaries to such illegality.