In this article, the authors have discussed the environmental interventions made by the Supreme Court in the mining sector. Further, the authors have analysed the consequential impact on various others industry sectors because of such interventions.
All the major countries of the world are striving for sustainable development. Sustainable development refers to the development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Both national and international organisations have highlighted the importance of sustainable development.
Mining is one of the major sectors, which plays a crucial role in the process of country’s economic development and acts as a catalyst for the growth of other core industries like power, steel, cement, etc., which, in turn, are critical for the overall development of the economy. India is one of the largest exporters of iron ore, chromite, bauxite, mica and manganese, and it is ranked fifth among the mineral-producing countries in terms of volume of production.
Mining includes activities like pitting, digging and quarrying among others undertaken to gainfully extract a mineral from the Earth’s crust. Mining is a fault-line of development which runs between environment and economy. It largely impacts the environment and sustainable development goals of the government. The judiciary has time and again made interventions in the mining sector in order to meet the threshold of sustainable development goals.
The Supreme Court intervention in mining operations dates back to the year 1997 when in Samatha v. State of A.P., (1997) 8 SCC 191, the Court recommended that at least 20 per cent of the profit be set aside as a permanent fund for development needs.
Subsequently, on February 7, 2018, the apex court in ‘Goa Foundation v. M/S Sesa Sterlite Ltd. & Ors, (2018) 4 SCC 218’ cancelled 88 iron ore mining leases in the State. The court held that the State was obligated to grant fresh leases, rather than allowing second renewals, pursuant to its order in the case of Goa Foundation v. Union of India. The court also came down on the State for showing undue haste in renewing the mining leases, observing that the State was willing to sacrifice rule of law for the benefit of lease holders.
The ambit of the phrase ‘illegal mining’ was also discussed in this case. The court held that illegal mining does not only mean mining outside lease area. Illegality may take place inside the lease area. Purpose of MMDR Act is to ensure scientific mining, balanced utilisation of natural resources and protection and preservation of environment by adhering to statutory requirements. Non adherence would invite penalty and termination of lease. Adherence to statutory provisions implies adherence to provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, laws pertaining to air and water pollution, Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and mining statutes.
Three principles form the basis of Intergenerational Equity. The first principle relied on is called the principle of “conservation of options”. This requires each generation to conserve the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base in such a manner that the options available to future generations are not restricted. The second principle relied on is the principle of “conservation of quality”. This was with reference to the submission that future generations should not be subjected to a quality of the planet worse than what it is today. In other words, future generations are also entitled to quality enjoyment of the diversity in the natural and cultural resource base. The third principle relied upon was the principle of “conservation of access” which is to say that future generations have an equitable right to access the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base as is available to the present generation.
Second, manufacturing sector will be affected since the manufacture of a lot of products depends upon the supply of minerals and most of the manufacturers depend upon local supply generated through mining. Complete ban will forced the manufacturers to import minerals from other States which consequently will impact the final price of the product or it will lead to force closure of such manufacturing units.
Third, mining has been a source of revenue generation for many states and such bans largely impact the State exchequer. It is to be noted that the impact may lead to reduction in the GDP of the State. Apart from these various other dependent sectors will be affected and therefore the Supreme Court should consider the consequences before making such interventions.
Implementation of these suggestions may allow to meet its goal of sustainable development along with gaining economic development. Complete ban of mining activities is not the solution, we have to be better regulators and enforcement of policies by the State agencies is the need of the hour.
Banning and cancellation of mining leases will increase our dependence on import.