LAST year in March, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a penalty of Rs 3 Crores on the Jammu & Kashmir government for its “acknowledged failure” in preventing pollution in Doodh Ganga stream. After 6 months the NGT again slapped a penalty of Rs 32 crores on Govt. The Doodh Ganga stream flows through various areas of Budgam & Srinagar and supplies drinking water to around 8 lakh population . Out of Rs 3 crore Rs 1 crore was paid by Urban Local Bodies (Municipal Committee Budgam / Chadoora each) , Rs 1 Crore was paid by Srinagar Municipal Corporation -SMC and Rs 1 Crore was realized from Geology & Mining Department J&K Govt through its District Mineral Offices (DMO) Budgam. The Principal Bench of the tribunal headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel in its order said :
“The state is accordingly held liable to pay interim compensation of Rs. One crore each under all the three heads which may be deposited in a separate account to be utilized for restoration of the environment. The amount may be deposited with the District Magistrate, Budgam and spent as per plan approved by the Chief Secretary.”
As per the NGT’s order, it was open to the state to recover the amount from the polluters or erring officers in accordance with law. The money was later-on recovered from Govt’s exchequer and was deposited in District Magistrate Budgam’s account. The amount was to be spent on the restoration of Doodh Ganga but this has not been done till date. Some restoration work was taken up by the Flood Control department but the contractors who did that work haven’t been paid the money as District Administration Budgam hasn’t gotten a go-ahead signal from Chief Secretary’s office as the said office had to okay the action plan.
The petition in NGT as already discussed in one of my earlier articles was filed by this author as authorities had filed to address the issue of solid & liquid waste management plus controlling the illegal riverbed mining. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its March 2022 order had also directed the J&K Pollution Control Committee-PCC to recover compensation on account of damage caused to the environment. The order further said:
“For illegal mining, the loss caused to the State in the form of value of minerals as well as the loss caused to the environment for undertaking such activity without requisite clearances needs to be recovered by the Pollution Control Committee”
PCC’s Action Taken Report
The J&K Pollution Control Committee or PCC which was called J&K Pollution Control Board or PCB before the abrogation of Article 370, submitted an Action Taken Report (ATR) before NGT on 12.05.2023.
The National Green Tribunal Principal Bench, New Delhi in the original application No. 241/2021titled Raja Muzaffar Bhat Versus Union of India and others vide its order dated 08-03-2022 had directed PCC to submit ATR vis a vis recovery of environmental compensation. The order said:
“For illegal mining, the loss caused to the State in the form of value of minerals as well as the loss caused to the environment for undertaking such activity without requisite clearance needs to be recovered by the State PCB in light of judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court inter-alia in Goa Foundation v/s Union of India and Ors (2014) 6 SCC 590 and Common Cause v/s Union of India.”
Instead of sending its own teams to the site to see who was involved in the illegal riverbed mining , the Pollution Control Committee-PCC instead relied on the Mining Department’s report who is one of the accused parties in this case and have been penalised already with Rs 1 crore penalty as discussed above.
DMO Shielding Contractors
The District Mineral Officer (DMO) Budgam instead of exposing the illegal riverbed mining being done by Project Proponents (Contractors) in mineral block 11 and 12 has blamed local tractor trolly and tipper drivers for illegal mining.
On his recommendation, around 30 such drivers have been asked to deposit penalty money which amounts to around Rs 28.50 lakhs. How can these tipper or tractor trolley drivers take out the minerals without the support of project proponents/ contractors who have been openly using JCBs and L&T cranes and whose GPS photos have already been submitted before the NGT ?
The DMO Budgam vide letter No. DMOBud/DGIWF -0512903-2906 dated 27-12-2022 reported that the lease holders of Minor Mineral Block No. 11 (Chadoora Old Bridge to Hanjigund) and Block No. 12 (Chadoora Foot Bridge to Sogam Bridge) have not been found involved in illegal mining within or outside the peripheries on their respective Blocks and furnished the list of Tractor/Tipper owners and one found indulged in illegal extraction/ transportation of minerals from Doodh Ganga stream.
The same report has been further submitted by the District officer J&K Pollution Control Committee -PCC Budgam vide letter No. PCC/DO/Bud120231290 Dated 02-05-2023 to its Regional Director and the list of offenders has been submitted before the NGT as well.
The Pollution Control Committee J&K claims that their Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had been entrusted with the assessment of the Environmental Compensation (EC) to be levied on account of illegal extractor/transportation of minerals from Doodh Ganga Nallah. The said committee as per my reports hardly visited the site as its members are posted in Reasi,Rajouri,Poonch districts plus there is no mention in any official documents that they visited the Doodh Ganga area.
Without going to ground zero the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has assessed and recommended to levy Environmental Compensation (EC) to the tune of Rs.28.50 Lacs on the offenders for illegal extraction / transportation of Minerals. Unfortunately, not even a single contractor/project proponent has been held guilty by them.
NGT says not satisfied with Govt
In its order dated May 24th 2023 , the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said that it was dissatisfied with the working of J&K government vis-à-vis controlling pollution and illegal riverbed mining in Doodh Ganga.
The case was again listed for hearing on May 29th and 30th respectively. The tribunal gave J&K government two-months time to implement its previous directions after the newly posted Principal Secretary Housing and Urban Development Department (HUDD) Prashat Goel gave personal assurance. The matter was listed for hearing before the NGT bench of Justice Sudhir Aggarwal and expert member A Senthil Vel.
My counsel Advocate Rahul Chowdhary and Sruthi K along with counsel for Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEF) Balendu Shekhar plus with around one dozen officers from the J&K government including Principal Secretary HUDD, J&K Government, Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), Director ULB Kashmir, Chief Engineer UEED Kashmir, DC Budgam, Regional Director Pollution Control Committee, Director Geology and Mining, J&K Government, and District Mineral Officer Budgam were present during the hearing.
In its earlier hearing on May 24, 2023, the NGT observed that no substantial progress had been made and directed that effective and meaningful affidavits be filed in the context of remediation of existing dump sites, providing waste processing facilities and preventing discharge of sewage from dewatering pumping stations.
Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation-SMC on behalf of the Principal Secretary HUDD J&K Govt assured NGT during the case hearing on May 30th 2023 that illegal riverbed mining had been stopped in Doodh Ganga.
From the next day of hearing i.e. June 1st 2023 , illegal mining with JCB/L&T cranes was stopped. Since then, water in Doodh Ganga is clean and the riverbed mining work is being done manually by contractors by employing more labourers.
There was an incident wherein JCB was used in night hours some days back and I brought the matter into notice of SMC Commissioner who assured this won’t be tolerated. He took up the issue with DC Budgam. The Govt also transferred the Secretary Mining J&K Govt to UT of Ladakh recently and that is also seen as a step to streamline the illegal riverbed mining.
After the May 30th hearing, the Principal Secretary HUDD seems to be personally monitoring the Doodh Ganga case and I am sure the work on Sewage Treatment Plants and treatment of legacy waste will also be done on priority. I also request the J&K Pollution Control Committee not to rely on the Mining Department’s report in preparing the environmental compensation. This author has already prepared a detailed counter response to the PCC’s report which would be submitted before NGT before the next date of hearing.