Forests, Permits, Licences, Res Judicata, Jurisdiction, Standing, Cooperation, Inspections, Wildlife
A public interest litigation, containing allegations of unauthorised and illegal mining in the Mussoorie-Dehradun belt, affecting adversely the ecology and environmental order of the area, was filed against the Governments of the Union and of Uttar Pradesh, agencies and mining lessees. A number of committees and working groups were set up both by the Court and the Central Government to study and report on the problem and several directions issued. The Bhargava Committee classified the mines into three groups, being A, B, C. On the basis of its Report the Court directed, by order dated 12th March, 1985, that the C Category mines of the Bhargav Committee Report should be closed down permanently and if any mining lessee of such a mine was running under the first grant or under Court's orders after its expiry, it would not be entitled to take advantage of the position. Similar order was made for the B category mines situated in the Shasradhara block. The A category mines located within the Mussoorie municipal limits and the remaining B category mines were directed to submit their mining scheme for scrutiny of the Bandyopadhyay Committee. The Court, however, allowed category mines located outside the city limits to operate. Some of the mines which were ordered to be closed down had earlier been refused renewal of their mining licences. These mines, however, continued to operate under the orders of various courts which had granted extension of their leases pending the final orders of the courts. On 16th December, 1986 this Court recognised the need to strike a balance between preservation and utilisation of deposits, and urged the Government to take a policy decision in the matter. Another committee was set up to examine the working of six limestone mines operatings in the Doon valley. Three of them were operating under valid mining leases and the other three, whose leases had expired were operating under orders of different courts. On behalf of the lessees it was contended: (1) decision of this Court dated 12th March, 1985 was final in the release of the A category mines outside the city limits from the proceedings, and it is not open to this Court in the same proceedings at a later stage to direct differently in regard to what has been decided earlier; (2) during the pendency of these writ petitions, the Environment Protection Act of l986 has come into force and since that Statute and the Rules made thereunder provide detailed procedure to deal with the situations that arise in these cases, this Court should no more deal with the matter and leave it to be looked into by the authorities under the Act, and (3) there would be a total stalemate in the manufacture of drugs and sugar, as also steel, in case mining activity is stopped. Disposing of the writ petition, this Court, held: 1)The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 does not permit mining in the forest area. The examination by this Court when it made the order of 12th March, 1985, omitted to consider the impact of the Act. If its provision had been noticed and impact thereof for the continuance of mining activity had been considered, perhaps the Court would have made no exemptions and no mining may have been permitted. The writ petitions have been raised by way of public interest litigation. Even if it is said that there was a final order, in a dispute of this type it would be difficult to entertain the plea of res judicata; 2) The Environment (Protection) Act does purport to- and perhaps could not--take away the jurisdiction of this Court to deal with a case of this type. Most of these mines are either within reserved forests or in forest lands as covered by the U.P. Amendment of the Forest Act. To these areas the Forest Conservation Act applies and to allow mining in these areas even under strictest control as a permanent feature would not only be violative of the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act but would be detrimental to restoration of the forest growth in a natural way in this area. In such circumstances, mining activity in this valley must be completely stopped. But such a situation will be available only after the original leases of the working mines are over: 3) to avoid the trade problems, the switch-over from the present position to a total ban should be spread over a period and not be sudden. In the circumstances, allowing the three on-going mines to operate for their initial period of lease is the most appropriate, but all care and attention shall be bestowed to preserve ecological and environmental balance while carrying on mining operations. A Monitoring Committee shall look after reafforestation, mining activities and all other aspects necessary to bring about natural normalcy in the Doon Valley. A Committee should be set up to oversee the rehabilitation of the displaced mine owners.