Daily Current Affairs for UPSC

Notification that Exempted Extraction of Ordinary Earth for Linear Projects

Syllabus- Polity and Governance [GS Paper-2]


The SC has recently set aside a notification issued by the Environment Ministry 3 years ago that exempted extraction of ordinary earth for linear projects (road, railways construction), from obtaining Environmental Clearance (EC). 

Key Highlights

  • The court held that completely unguided and blanket exemption was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 because the 2020 notification did not outline ‘linear initiatives’ or specify the quantum and the extraction area.
  • The notification did not make clear on the perception of linear projects, designate the authority in rate of environmental safeguards or make preparations for the equal, or set up limits on the amount of extraction.
  • The court failed to recognize the government’s undue haste in issuing the impugned notification, when construction of linear tasks had come to a standstill because of national lockdown.

Similar Exemptions that have Faced Judicial Scrutiny inside the Past

  • In 2018, the NGT quashed an exemption provided by the Ministry’s 2016 notification from the requirement of previous EC for building and production activities having constructed-up regions of more than 20,000 sq.m.
  • There was nothing to signify an improvement in the quality of the environment to justify the exemption.
  • Underlining that the EPA mandates previous approval, the NGT in 2015 struck down two Office Memorandums issued with the aid of the Ministry for granting ex-post facto EC to initiatives under the 2006 notification.
  • Recently, the Kerala HC quashed a 2014 notification that exempted academic institutions and commercial sheds with constructed-up areas of more than 20,000 sq.m from obtaining EC.

About the Notification that Exempted Extraction of Ordinary Earth for Linear Projects

  • In 2006, the Environment Ministry had issued a notification under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (EPA) on activities that would require previous EC.
  • In 2016, a second notification was issued, exempting certain categories of projects from this requirement.
  • The third notification of 2020 introduced “Extraction or sourcing or borrowing of regular earth for the linear initiatives consisting of roads, pipelines, and so on” to the list of exempted activities.

Why was this Notification Issued?

  • The Centre argued before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that the exemption was important for the aid of the general public.
    • This would help the kumhars (potters), farmers, gram panchayats, vanjara, oads of Gujarat and all non-mining activities identified by the states.
  • The widespread motive of the 2020 notification was to conform to the amendments made to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 (in March 2020).
    • This would allow new lessees to hold mining for two years with the statutory clearances and licences issued to their predecessors.
  • The Centre additionally stated that grant of exemption was a policy matter that did not warrant judicial interference.

Grounds on which the 2020 Exemption/Notification Challenged

  • The exemption was challenged before the NGT on the ground that permitting the extraction of earth indiscriminately was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • The petitioner argued that the exemption violated the requirement of earlier EC in the rentals as laid down by the top court in Deepak Kumar vs the State of Haryana (2012).
  • It was submitted that the Environment Ministry had circumvented the prison method of inviting public objections before issuing the 2020 notification for the duration of the Covid-19 national lockdown.
    • This served and furthered the interest of private miners and contractors.
  • According to the NGT, the Environment Ministry should strike a balance, and in preference to providing a blanket exemption, it should be accompanied by suitable safeguards.
  • The Tribunal requested the Centre to “revisit” the notification within 3 months.

Response of the Government

  • The Centre sat at the NGT order until the appellant moved the SC.
  • It was best after the SC concluded the listening to and reserved its judgement, that the Ministry issued an Office Memorandum laying down the enforcement mechanism for the exemption.
  • The Ministry notified that the exemption in question would be subject to the compliance of standard operating procedures and environmental safeguards issued in this regard sometimes.

Source: The Indian Express

UPSC Mains Practice Question

Q.Why did SC barred unregulated soil extraction for linear projects? Discuss the NGT guidelines regarding this.

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