A three-judge Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, and Justice BR Gavai while modifying the directions of the National Green Tribunal with regards to mining in the state of Bihar held that a total ban on legal mining would apart from giving rise to illegal mining also cause huge loss to the public exchequer. The Bench has passed an interim order in the matter.

An appeal was preferred by the State of Bihar challenging the order of the NGT, Principal Bench, New Delhi.

Senior Counsel Mr. Atmaram Nadkarni appeared for the Appellant while Senior Counsel Mr. P.S. Patwalia appeared for the Respondent, the original applicant before the NGT, during the hearing before the Supreme Court.

It was contended by the Appellant that finding of the Tribunal was like putting a cart before the horse. It was further argued that due to the orders of NGT, the old lessees were continuing with the mining activities by paying a meager amount to the State Government because of which a huge loss would be caused to the public exchequer.

The Apex Court passed certain interim orders in the matter while holding, "A balanced approach of sustainable development ensuring environmental safeguards, needs to be resorted to."

"It also cannot be ignored that when legal mining is banned, it gives rise to mushroom growth of illegal mining, resulting into clashes between sand mafias, criminalization and at times, loss of human lives," the Bench opined.

Further, the Court held the Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining, 2020, and the notification of 15th January 2016 provided for the constitution of sub-divisional committees comprising of the officers of the State Government of various Departments for identification of potential sites for mining, hence there would be no need of the District Survey Reports being prepared through private consultants as directed by the Tribunal in the impugned order.

"Preparation of DSR through private consultants would also unnecessarily burden the public exchequer," observed the Court. In this regard, the Court was of the view that the findings of the Tribunal required modification.

The Court substituted the directions of the NGT with the following directions-

"i) The exercise of preparation of DSR for the purpose of mining in the State of Bihar in all the districts shall be undertaken afresh. The draft DSRs shall be prepared by the sub-divisional committees consisting of the Sub­Divisional Magistrate, Officers from Irrigation Department, State Pollution Control Board or Committee, Forest Department, Geological or mining officer. The same shall be prepared by undertaking site visits and also by using modern technology. The said draft DSRs shall be prepared within a period of 6 weeks from the date of this order.

After the draft DSRs is prepared, the District Magistrate of the concerned District shall forward the same for examination and evaluation by the SEAC. The same shall be examined by the SEAC within a period of 6 weeks and its report shall be forwarded to the SEIAA within the aforesaid period of 6 weeks from the receipt of it. The SEIAA will thereafter consider the grant of approval to such DSRs within a period of 6 weeks from the receipt thereon;

ii) Needless to state that while preparing DSRs and the appraisal thereof by SEAC and SEIAA, it should be ensured that a strict adherence to the procedure and parameters laid down in the policy of January 2020 should be followed;

iv) Until further orders, we permit the State Government to carry on mining activities through Bihar State Mining Corporation for which it may employ the services of the contractors. However, while doing so, the State Government shall ensure that all environmental concerns are taken care of and no damage is caused to the environment."

The case will now be listed after 20 weeks.

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