The principal bench of the National Green Tribunal has directed the state government to estimate the damages caused to the environment by illegal mining of iron ore and other minerals and recover compensation from the polluters for restoration/restitution.
The NGT’s observation came while dealing with the status of compliance of orders of the tribunal on the solid waste management and allied issues.
The court highlighted some of the serious challenges faced by the state in protecting the environment including the failure to manage solid waste and to prevent other causes, which has led to air pollution and deterioration in groundwater level.
The NGT also pointed out the damages to forests and wildlife, and the unscientific and uncontrolled sand mining.
“The unsatisfactory implementation of law is clear from the fact that in spite of severe damage, there is no report of any convictions being recorded against the polluters, nor adequate compensation has been recovered for damage caused to the environment,” the bench noted.
The bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and also comprising K Ramakrishnan, and Dr Nagin Nanda, has said that it is essential for the state government to evaluate the damage caused to the environment and the cost
required for its restoration. This is a mandate under the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which is in accordance with Section 20 of National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“Rampant mining in areas rich in iron ore and other minerals is now threatening the forest cover as well as posing a health hazard to the local population in various areas of Goa. More than one fourth of the state has been affected by mining activity, and along with legitimate mining, illegal mining too has come to stay in Goa,” the bench has reckoned.
The NGT has observed that the situation is only going to get worse as mining companies are gearing up to further increase the amount of ore they extract from the ecologically sensitive regions of the small state.
While taking a note of the recent economic survey, which says that more than 2.5 lakh hectares of government land has been taken over by illegal mining, the court asked state Chief Secretary Parimal Rai to verify the records and take necessary action.
“While revenue losses from illegal sand mining has been estimated at about Rs 3,000 crore, the loss by way of damage to the environment and loss of livelihood has not been estimated,” the NGT observed.
Rai, who attended the court, submitted a status report.
The compliance report indicates some of the steps taken for solid waste management. The status of compliance of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016, polluted river stretches, polluted industrial clusters, air pollution in cities and illegal mining was also mentioned.
However, the principal bench of the NGT said the steps taken for the management of plastic and biomedical waste are inadequate. Unless right steps are taken, the unsatisfactory state of environment in the country in general and in the state in particular may not improve.
The NGT issued directions over the failure to comply with different waste management rules, asking the authorities to notify within the next six months at least three major towns or cities in the state and at least three panchayats in each district as ‘model’ towns.
The tribunal directed the Chief Secretary to appear before it in person on October 21 with the status of compliance and asked to submit first quarterly report by July 15.
The district magistrates have been asked to monitor the status of compliance of environmental norms, at least once in two weeks.
The tribunal also asked to conduct performance audit of statutory regulators so that they are manned by competent as well as credible persons, and that there is a regime of their accountability, as observed by the Supreme Court.
The court said that from perusal of the compliance report and after hearing submissions of the state, we find that steps required to be taken under Rule 22 of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 have not yet been completed.
It is not clear whether the local bodies have submitted their annual reports to the Goa State Pollution Control Board under Rule 24 and whether the GSPCB has submitted consolidated annual report to the Central Pollution Control Board under the said rules.