The principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently shot a one month notice to the J&K Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) as Environmental Clearance (EC) granted by them for riverbed mining in Shali Ganga in Budgam was violating all the environmental laws and guidelines of SEIAA. While hearing an appeal against the EC granted by J&K SEIAA , a division bench of NGT headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson NGT) and Professor A. Senthil Vel (Expert member) noted that the division bench has found it necessary to seek a response not only from the SEIAA but also from the project proponent (PP) M/S NKC Projects Pvt Ltd as well who are involved in large scale illegal mining in the area. This author was forced to move an appeal before the NGT as both State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority and Project Proponent failed to act over my repeated requests to stop illegal mining in Shali Ganga which has been looted and plundered for the last 6 months.
Background of Case
The appeal was moved against grant of Environmental Clearance (EC) for minor mineral block No. 4, Panzan bridge to Trumbi Bagh (Lalgam), downstream Shali Ganga nallah, village Lalgam, Tehsil Chadoora District Budgam, JK UT (resized area – 2.90 ha.), under proposal No. SIA/JK/MIN/ 255737/ 2022 & SIA/JK/ MIN/233732/ 2021, vide order dated 19.04.2022 by J&K State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), in favor of M/s NKC Project Pvt. Ltd which is a Gurgaon based construction company having been allotted a contract of Srinagar Semi Ring Road in Kashmir. The company is illegally extracting minor minerals from Shali Ganga which as per Mineral Rules 2016 and SEIAA guidelines is completely prohibited. The SEIAA also was not bothered what has been happening on the ground ?
This author prayed before the NGT that environmental clearance (EC ) granted by J&K SEIAA was in violation of Rule 4(iv) of Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession which states that the Licensee of a unit/plant/crusher should maintain all records of the minor minerals procured, processed and supplied to further destinations and submit monthly returns.
Besides, it was also a violation of Rule 4 of Mining Rules, 2016 which prohibits mining within 25 meters from the embankment. The width of the Shali Ganga is not more than 40 meters on an average and by allowing mining in its illegal as the river has to be at least 100 meters wide i.e 50 meters to maintain distance from banks and 50 meters to use the area for mining. The riverbed is already over-exploited and not fit for a mining zone. It will result in disruption of flow and will subsequently impact Hokersar wetland.
No District Survey Report has been prepared, as per the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016. The NKC Projects Pvt Ltd & other project proponents as well are using JCB’s , L&Ts for mining despite clear instructions for not using a JCB in these riverbeds. Above all, no replenishment study has been conducted as per Enforcement & Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining, 2020. The entire tendering process is flawed in fact. How can NKC Projects Pvt Ltd extract sand , muck and bajri (gravel) and use the same for its Ring Road project while Mining Rules and other guidelines say that a material extracted has to be sold locally on 50 % discount in a radius of 2 kms.
Go ahead by EAC
The project proponent NKC Project Pvt Ltd had submitted the first set of proposals for extraction of river bed minor mineral from three blocks which were considered together in 81st meeting of Jammu & Kashmir Union Territory Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). The proposals were rejected on the grounds that the area is already over-exploited and is depleted to a large extent due to heavy illegal mining as Shali Ganga nallah is a feeding channel to Hokersar wetland and the mining activity may be detrimental to natural flow and quality of the water flowing into Hokersar wetland and that irrigation kuhls are present within the mining site.
Thereafter, the project proponent submitted fresh proposals for the grant of environmental clearances for the three blocks and the proposals were placed before the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for appraisal together in its 87th meeting held on 02.03.2022. The EAC without considering the environmental issues recommended them for grant of Environmental Clearances (EC’s). The Jammu & Kashmir Environment Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) , on the recommendation of Jammu & Kashmir Union Territory Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) granted Environmental Clearances (ECs) to the projects on 19.04.2022.
Challenging the EC
This author challenged the three Environmental Clearances (ECs) granted by J&K Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (JKEIAA) dated 19.04.2022 before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the following reasons:
A) The Environmental Clearances are in violation of Rule 4(iv) of Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage, Transportation of Minerals, and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016 which prohibits any minor mineral concession being granted within a distance of 25 metres of any embankment
B) The Environmental Clearances were granted without taking into account the grounds on which the previous proposals of the project proponent were rejected and despite no change in the ground level situation, the EC was granted.
C) The Environmental Clearances have been granted despite the District Survey Report not being prepared in line with the Guidelines, as noted by the Jammu & Kashmir Union Territory Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) .Violations of Conditions of the Environmental Clearance dated 19.04.2022 by the project proponent who undertook activities strictly prohibited under the Environmental Clearance.
D) The EAC while granting Environmental Clearances in its 87th meeting failed to consider the grounds on which it had earlier rejected the first set of proposals of the project proponent in the 81st meeting. The EAC failed to note its own observation made in the 81st meeting that the area is “already depleted to a large extent due to heavy illegal mining and hardly any material is available for exploitation without endangering the environmental setting of the nalla.
E) The J&K UT level EAC in its 87th meeting dated 02.03.2022 recommended the projects for grant of two Environmental Clearances without considering that only a short span of time has elapsed since the last meeting was held, in which it was concluded that the area is heavily exploited and not fit for mining. How is it possible for an area to be restored and replenished within a short period of two months and make it fit for mining?
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) also recommended the projects for grant of Environmental Clearances even when it has been noted by it in the 87th meeting that there are “feature indicative of Irrigation offtake point” in the site area. At the same time, it also notes that NOC from Irrigation Division Budgam has clarified that there are no Khul or canal present in the mining block. The Environmental Clearances have been erroneously granted by J&K UT level EAC on the basis of the NOC granted by the Irrigation Department even when irrigation points were visible inside the site area.
The J&K UT level EAC also failed to note the fact that Shali Ganga Nallah serves as a feeding channel for the Hokersar wetland and the project proponent was only directed to submit an undertaking to the Wildlife Protection Department duly attested by the Judicial Magistrate First Class to the effect that in case of any damage to the existing water course in terms of ecological and hydrological factors, the costs of rehabilitation of the same will be decided by the Wildlife Protection Department and will be borne by the project proponent. Hokersar wetland, a Ramsar site in India is also known as the “Queen wetland of Kashmir? and serves as a breeding ground for migratory birds in Kashmir. Mining on the banks of its feeding channel and thereby disrupting the flow of water into the wetland will directly impact the ecology of the area, livelihood of the people living around the wetland and the breeding ground for migratory birds.
It is necessary that people have to seek judicial intervention or file petitions of appeals before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) when it comes to protecting our rivers and waterbodies ? How many people can do that ? What are our Govt officials doing ? Don’t they read rules and regulations that govern riverbed mining in J&K ? The NOC’s granted by Irrigation, Flood Control, Pollution Control Board, Fisheries Department and other authorities are totally flawed. Shali Ganga like Doodh Ganga is not fit for riverbed mining and in fact the entire tendering process is illegal.