Sonbhadra, 26 May: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) fined two private companies of Rs 15.96 crore engaged in mining along the Son River in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra district.

The tribunal also directed the union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC), as well as the state ministries of environment and forest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to investigate the legality of declaring parts of the Son River, which runs through both states, as the ‘Son Ghadiyal Wildlife Sanctuary’ within three months.

The NGT was considering a case involving illicit sand and morrum mining near Son in the Sonbhadra district.

The tribunal stated that the issue involved illegal mining near Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) and protected reserved forests, in violation of various environmental clearance (EC), consent orders, and environmental laws, causing direct damage to the environment and aquatic ecology, particularly the flora and fauna in the area.

A bench of judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member A Senthil Vel found that two proprietorship firms, Sudhakar Pandey and Associates (respondent no. 14) and New India Minerals (respondent no. 15), had violated environmental laws and norms while carrying out mining activities.

According to the bench, both enterprises were granted permission for mining morrum in Agori Khas hamlet of Obra tehsil in the district.

“…they (respondents 14 and 15) are accused of illicit mining outside of the lease area…The next violation observed…is mining by the leaseholder in the river’s main stream,” the bench stated.

Because illicit mining had seriously harmed aquatic ecology and the riverine regime, both were required to pay environmental compensation under the ‘Polluter Pays’ concept. According to the bench, they were also accountable for the start of criminal proceedings for EC offences.

It stated that, taking into account all of the facts and circumstances of the incidents, a directive has been issued to the authorities responsible to investigate the possibility of declaring portions of the Son River, which runs through the states of UP and Bihar, as the ‘Son Ghadiyal Wildlife Sanctuary.’

“Ministries of environment and forest in the states of UP and Bihar, as well as MoEF & CC, shall consider the matter of declaring a portion of the Son River running through the states of UP and Bihar as a Wildlife Sanctuary and an ESZ for the protection of ghadials (freshwater crocodiles) and other species in Son and would take necessary, remedial, and appropriate action within three months,” the tribunal stated.

It stated that because the Environment (Protection) Act is included in the schedule of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and both respondents committed an infraction under the EP Act, the Directorate of Enforcement could investigate these matters and take appropriate action.

In terms of compensation, it directed Sudhakar Pandey and associates and New India Minerals to pay compensation to the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) of Rs 8.16 crore and Rs 7.8 crore, respectively, by depositing 40% of the amount within one month and the remaining amount in two equal instalments within two months.

The green tribunal directed it to revisit all mining leases in the Son river bed in Sonbhadra district and take appropriate decision or action within three months, forming a joint committee comprised of representatives of the UP’s State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, the state’s Ministry of Environment and Forest, UPPCB, and District Magistrate, Sonbhadra.

It said that no additional mining in the riverbed is permitted until the committee makes a decision.