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NGT slaps Rs 20 cr environment compensation on construction companies engaged by railways

The NGT, pronouncing an interim order of a five-year-old petition, asked the Woodhill Hillways (JV) and Hillways Construction Company Private limited to deposit the amount with the State Pollution Control Board within two months.

Statesman News Service | Bhubaneswar |

The Special bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed two construction companies engaged in the railway project construction work to pay Rs 20 crore interim environmental compensation for illegal extraction of earth and minor minerals.

The NGT, pronouncing an interim order of a five-year-old petition, asked the Woodhill Hillways (JV) and Hillways Construction Company Private limited to deposit the amount with the State Pollution Control Board within two months.

“The interim compensation assessed at Rs. 20 crore will be deposited by the two companies within two months with the SPCB. If deposit as directed is not made, the District Magistrate may recover the amount by using coercive measures”, a five-member special bench of NGT ruled.

The petition had sought NGT’s intervention against illegal extraction of soil/Morrum/earth and other minor minerals by the two companies for executing work of railways in connection with construction of the earth bed of Angul-Duburi-Sukinda rail line in the State.

The mining was being done without requisite Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The area is forest area and no clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 has been taken. Mining has been conducted without observing requisite safeguards, the application filed on 30 August, 2017 had alleged.

According to the affidavit of the State Pollution Control Board,  The quantity of mined material is 18,33,660 cubic meters. Reply of the Railways Administration is that EIA requirement does not apply to a Railway project.

It is further stated that quarrying operation for Railway Administration does not require any permit under the Mining Law in view of section 11 of the Railways Act, 1989.  The stand of the companies was that the railway project is an important project and thus neither EIA nor Mining Rules apply.

As regards the plea of exemption from Environment Clearance or other laws for executing the work of the Railway Administration, we find no merit therein, the NGT ruled.

The mining is patently illegal in absence of EC. A mineral vest in the State and extraction without State’s permission are illegal and in fact amounts to theft. Compensation assessed does not take into account the value of the mined material, cost of restoration, extent of damage to the environment and deterrent element, as required under the law, the petitioner’s counsel said.

The royalty collected itself is more than Rs. 3 crores, which is said to be 10% of the value of the mined material which is said to be more than 1800000 cum. Thus, the minimum value of mined material can safely be taken to be Rs. 20 crores. The SPCB will be the nodal agency for coordination and compliance.

Accordingly, pending final calculation of compensation amount as per norms laid down by the Supreme Court, after giving due opportunity to the companies, taking into account the value of the mined material, cost of the environmental services forgone forever, deterrent element and cost of restoration,

The Joint Committee comprising CPCB, SPCB, SEIAA Odisha and District Magistrate, Dhenkanal may also prepare a restoration plan for utilizing the amount recovered, taking into account the District Environment Plan of the area.

The execution may be through an appropriate agency which may be decided and overseen by the Committee.