The Uttarakhand High Court has ordered the state government to put a four-month ban on mining in the state, meaning no fresh lease or prospective licence will be issued for the next 120 days.
The HC bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Sudhanshu Dhulia passed this order on Tuesday while hearing a PIL filed by residents of Ganwa Village Simroli, Bageshwar seeking directions be passed to imposed a complete ban on mining in the hilly state.
The court ordered constitution of a high powered committee to look into various aspects of mining activities to find out as to whether mining activity should at all be permitted in the state and chart out suggestions for next five decades.
The court also ordered that a sum of Rs 50 lakh be released to meet the expenses of the committee which will give its interim report in four months and a final report in nine months.
The court has also sought ways to make up for the loss to the environment, compensate the affected and recover expenses from defaulters.
It was contended in the PIL that illegal mining activity in the area was not only causing harm to the infrastructure but was dangerous to the environment as well.
"The Himalayan range glaciers, rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, jungles, forests and air are polluted. Their survival is at stake," the court said.
It ordered constitution of the Committee to find out as to whether the mining activity should at all be permitted in the state of Uttarakhand at present and in future. The court directed that the committee be headed by the Secretary, Environment, Forest and Climate Change or his nominee not below the rank of Additional Secretary as the Chairman.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Rajendra Mahajan, and the Commissioner, Kumaon, D. Sainthil Pandiyan would act as Secretary and Nodal officer of the Committee respectively.
Mahajan and Pandiyan will not be transferred, without leave of the court, to maintain smooth functioning of the Committee.
The DG, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, and Director, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, DG, GSI, Dehradun will act as members of the Committee.
"Committee is directed to suggest whether mining operations in Uttarakhand be permitted or should be stopped completely or partially, keeping in mind the topography of the hills, the fragile mountains and is likely hazards to the health of citizens. Committee will also examine whether existing mining operations should be permitted as per principle of 'sustainable development', whether mining can be permitted in rivers, streams, rivulets etc. and beyond the height of 3000 ft. from the sea level or the stage of saturation has come," the court said.
The committee will assess the damage caused to the rivers, springs, waterfalls and environment and ecology of Uttarakhand by mining and determine compensation payable to the persons affected by mining activities along with identifying the persons responsible for environmental degradation, the court said.
"The state government is directed not to grant fresh licence, lease or prospecting licence, till the final report is furnished.... The Committee is directed to assess the cleaning up cost of reclamation from the defaulters and prepare a blueprint for mining policy for next 50 years," the court said and praised the works of activists Sunder Lal Bahuguna and Magsaysay awardee Chandi Prasad Bhatt in the order.