In a landmark decision, the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal comprising of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel in Judgment dated 20-3-2020 , found Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) guilty of damaging the environment and imposed a cost of Rs 160 Crores (1.6 Billion) for restoration of the area. The NGT also held Coal India Ltd through South Eastern Coalfields Ltd also complicit in violation of the environmental norm after it gained control over the mine in 2016.
The judgment was in response to an Application filed by local villager Dukalu Ram against the illegal mining by Jindal Power Ltd between 2005 to 2016 and SECL and Coal India Ltd in Gare Palma IV/2 and Gare Palma IV/3 in Raigarh District of Chattisgarh.
The case filed in 2014, had led to multiple orders. The NGT concluded that JSPL is guilty of diverting forest land for mining, dumping of chemicals and coal water in the fields and affecting the crops of the farmers, not developing green belt, transporting coal in open trucks, loss of ecological services and not providing health facilities to the victims of pollution.
The mining was taking place over 964 ha of forest land for supplying coal for a power plant located at a distance of 9 kms from the mines. The mine was operated by JSPL from 2006 to 2015 after which it was taken over by Coal India ltd.
In response to the Application, the NGT in 2017 constituted a Committee consisting of Joint Secretaries of the Ministry of Coal and Environment Ministry (MoEF&CC). The Committee in its report found JSPL guilty of damaging the environment and public health :
“…the proponent worked in the area since 2006 and benefited with ore extraction and responsible for neglecting the interest towards social and health aspect of the society residing therein.
Despite operation of the mine since 2006, the proponent has not shown any seriousness towards the important condition pertaining to surface water quality
Raging of fire in the mining pit and dumps is really a cause of concern and needs immediate redressal. The Committee felt that fires (containing Carbon Monooxide and H2S) is creating health problems for the villagers
Due to fires, the area is witnessing heavy smoke, which is adversely affecting the health of the inhabitants and their livestock and other living beings
In addition, the Committee found JSPL guilty of the following:
• No Clearance obtained from the MoEF for capacity enhancement, including underground mining
• Mining activities conducted at a distance of 10 metres from the settlement, leading to vibration and flying rock causing destruction of house and property.
• No green belt development between the mine and the village & coal being transported in open truck
• No Objection Certificate of the affected village not obtained before diversion of forest land.
The NGT took note of the Inspection carried out by the Committee constituted by it:
During the inspection that water sources specially ponds and handpumps in the adjacent villages of Kosampallu and Sarasmal have dried up. Two ponds, in the village have been observed to be dried up resulting into difficulty for villagers to carry out activities linked to village ponds such as cattle rearing. The villages have also reported that 15-17 handpumps installed during 1995-96 in the villages to meet drinking water needs, have also been dried up and the villagers are now totally dependent on alternate water supply provided through pumps installed by the local panchayats. In the event of power breakdown, the drinking water supply also ceases resulting into the drinking water crisis for villagers Location of the village in such close proximity of the mining lease has undoubtedly impacted the local resources and ultimately the socio economic regimes of the local habitants.
The NGT constituted an ‘Oversight Committee’ in order to calculate the monetary compensation for violation and the remedial action required . The Committee calculated the total damages as Rs 160 Crores which included damages caused due to illegal mining, loss of ecological services, . JSPL challenged the Committes Report before the Supreme Court in 2019. The Supreme Court allowed JSPL to raise its objection against the Committees Report before the NGT. The NGT in its latest order rejected the objections raised by JSPL and held that the ‘Report is accepted on the subject of assessment of compensation’.
The NGT held that JSPL is liable for the damage to the environment and public health by the illegalities in mining in violation of environmental norms It reiterated its earlier order of 2018 where it held JSPL guilty of violation and the Committees report based on site visit conclusively points to the damage caused to the environment. The only compliance that JSPL stated before the NGT is that they have black topped the road. Rejecting this the NGT said that ‘claim of compliance based only on black topping of internal roads cannot be treated as compliance of EC (Environmental Clearance) condition’
Directions of the NGT
• JSPL and SECL to deposit the amount assessed within one month from the date of Judgment
• Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board to prepare Action Plan for utilizing the amount for environmental remediation and restoration of the area.
• The Action Plan will be examined by a Committee comprising of Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, Indian Institute of Forest Management, Regional Office of MoEF, CPCB among others.
• Health care facilities for the villagers affected by coal mining
• CECB to install 12 Continuous Air Quality Monitoring Stations with 3 in mining areas, 1 in affected villages and 8 in non attainment cities with 7 years of operation and maintainece warrant with its connectivity to CPCB/ CECB from consent funds of State Pollution Control Board
This order comes after long legal struggle of the residents of village Kosampalli and Sarasmal who have been fighting against the violations of environmental norms and other illegalities by the mining companies.The residents of the affected villages and the petitioners see this as moral and legal victory. “The NGT Order is a victory for people who have suffered severe air pollution, depleting ground water, mine fires and heavy impact on their health for coal mines in the region. We welcome the Court’s order and now urge the state administration and the NGT to ensure that this fine is collected and these recommendations specially restoration, compensation and mitigation is implemented in the time-bound manner to ensure that there is no further damage from mining activities on our health and environment. We urge the government to ensure that no new mines are started in the region until all these violations are corrected and adverse impacts reversed”, said the a representative of the petitioners.
This is the second order of NGT with regards to ongoing environmental and health violations by coal mines in Raigarh district. In another related case in the matter of ShivpalBhagat&Ors vs Union of India, the NGT in February this year had passed a comprehensive order noting the deteriorating environmental conditions in the region due to coal mines and power plants. It applied the ‘Precautionary’ and ‘Sustainable Development’ principles and stated that any further expansion or new projects in the area should be allowed after thorough evaluation only. That both the coal and environmental ministries will have to monitor these proposals in the light of the high level and contamination in the area as well as the near full carrying capacity.
NGT has further directed against the conversion of underground mines into open cast ones, no more fly ash dumping in low lying or any open areas, strict maintenance and that the cost of all remedial measures will be borne by the polluter. NGT also directed that an effective mechanism oversight of measures for health mitigation and entrusted the Principal Secretary, Health Department to oversee it.
This is the first time ever that anywhere on a pollution matter, the court has involved the State Health Department into action and specifically entrusted it with the task of overseeing health mitigation plan.