Major environment orders (May 21, 2024)

Down To Earth brings you the top environmental cases heard in the Supreme Court, the high courts and the National Green Tribunal

Illegal mining damages Punjab’s Swan river bridge

National Green Tribunal (NGT) on May 20, 2024 took serious view of a news report on the closure of a bridge over Swan river in Punjab due to alleged indiscriminate sand mining and directed that notices be issued to the Punjab Pollution Control Board, among others. 

Other respondents to be impleaded are Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), regional office in Chandigarh for Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and deputy commissioner / district magistrate, Rupnagar (formerly Ropar).

The court ordered that notices be issued to the respondents to file their responses at least one week before the next hearing date, August 28, 2024. The CPCB has been directed to conduct a spot inspection to determine the extent of illegal mining in the affected area and submit a report to the tribunal. 

An application was registered suo motu on the basis of the news item, From Ropar to Hoshiarpur via HP: 30-km detour as illegal mining damages bridge, which appeared in newspaper Indian Express, April 10, 2024.

The matter relates to the closure of a bridge over the Swan river, connecting Nangal with Garhshankar, due to indiscriminate sand mining. This has caused residents of at least 200 villages in Rupnagar district  to take a 30 kilometre detour. 

It has been three months since the bridge was closed, leaving the residents of these villages and Nangal town in Rupnagar with no choice but to cross over to Himachal Pradesh, pay an entry fee and travel an extra 30 km to reach Garhshankar in Hoshiarpur district, the news article stated.

The article also claimed that when visiting the Swan Bridge over the river, a tributary of the Sutlej, it was discovered that traffic had found a way to bypass the bridge by driving through the riverbed.

It also stated that the authorities had been informed several times about the mining activity in the area, which is far exceeding the permissible limit and could endanger the bridge’s pillars. Craters over 30 metres deep had formed on the riverbank. However, no action was taken.

According to the article, mining exposed the bridge’s foundation and caused the bank to corrode. The foundation has been damaged from the Garhshankar side. Illegal mining was also taking place in some villages at odd hours, including those in Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Jalandhar, Tarn Taran, and Hoshiarpur districts.

The residents claimed floodwater enters their villages as the river embankments have weakened due to mining, the news item added. The groundwater level has decreased from 20 feet (over 6 metres) to 100 feet (30.48 metres). Water seepage was damaging their properties and houses sink occasionally, it stated.

The allegations indicated violations of the Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines, 2016 and the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The article also raised substantial issues relating to compliance with environmental norms and the implementation of the provisions of the scheduled enactment, the court noted.

Aluminium dross being sold without following norms

NGT on May 17, 2024 directed member secretary of CPCB to investigate allegations that Runaya Refining LLP, a manufacturer of aluminium oxide briquettes in Jharsuguda, Odisha, was illegally selling aluminium dross.

The sale was allegedly taking place without completing stage three of the process as per the standard operating procedure for the utilisation of aluminium dross, thereby causing significant environmental damage.

The court instructed the CPCB to determine whether the complaint was accurate and if the unit was causing any environmental harm. If so, the agency was directed to take appropriate action in accordance with the law.

Aluminium dross recycling is a technology for recycling aluminium waste products. Aluminium dross, a byproduct of the aluminium melting process, is a mixture of aluminium, its oxides, the oxides of alloying elements, and less frequently, halides, carbides and nitrides.

Green belt used for commercial purposes in Kondhwa, Pune

NGT May 17, 2024 directed a joint committee to look into the allegations of a green belt in Kondhwa in Pune, Maharashtra being used for commercial purposes and submit a report. 

The tribunal ordered a factual report be submitted to verify the claims and directed the formation of a joint committee comprising the district magistrate and deputy collector of Pune. The committee was asked to visit the site, collect relevant information, and, if any change in the nature of the green belt or environmental damage is found, submit a detailed factual report to the Western Zone Bench in Pune within two months.

The application was registered based on a letter petition sent by residents of Konark Pooram Cooperative Housing Society. They complained that Karia Builder of Pune had developed a housing project comprising 800 flats and row houses. 

According to records, the eastern side behind Konark Pooram is designated as a green belt and earmarked for development as a nullah garden. However, residents have noticed that the area meant for the green belt is being used for commercial activities, with large-scale uprooting of trees and plants using heavy machinery like earth movers. 

Despite various representations made by local residents and others, no action has been taken by the authorities concerned, they claimed.

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