Illegal Quarrying: HC Stays Rs 12 Crore NGT Fine On Puri Jagannath Temple Administration
Cuttack: The Orissa High Court has issued a stay on the National Green Tribunal (NGT) direction to the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) to deposit Rs12 crores with the Khurda Collector for reclamation and restoration of stone quarries of the temple.
The division bench of Justices BR Sarangi and MS Raman issued the interim stay on the basis of a petition filed by the chief administrator of SJTA challenging the NGT order passed on October 14, 2022. “As an interim measure, it is directed that the order dated 14 October 2022 passed by the National Green Tribunal, Eastern Zone, Kolkata shall remain stayed till 4 October 2023,” the bench said on Monday.
The court has also issued notice to the Khurda collector, member secretary of Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB), member secretary of State Environment Impact Assessment Authority and Bidu Bhusan Harichandan, the petitioner, and posted the matter to October 4, 2023.
The NGT’s east zone bench had issued the direction while hearing a petition filed by Harichandan over alleged illegal stone mining in nearly 500 acres of the temple land under Nijigarh Tapang panchayat in Khurda district. He had alleged that these areas were basically cashew jungle, gramya jungle (village forest) and gochar land (common land). No environmental clearance or consent to operate was obtained from the respective authorities while mining activities were taken up after clearing trees, the petition added.
Besides directing SJTA to deposit Rs 12 crore, the bench had asked the Khurda collector to constitute a committee for the purpose of restoration and renovation of the excavated areas in 23 quarries as per plan, and complete the entire work within four months.
The committee, constituted by NGT with OSPCB as the nodal agency, had confirmed illegal quarrying. The fine amount was the cost of renovation, reclamation and restitution of the 23 quarries, identified by SJTA after discussion with OSPCB as sites where no mining operation will be undertaken.
According the committee report, only 27 of the 72 quarries in Puri Jagannath Temple land had obtained environmental clearance, consent to establish (CTE) and consent to operate (CTO). While 24 quarries do not have CTE, 37 have not obtained CTO, it added.
The temple administration, however, contended that Odisha Minor Minerals (Regulation & Development) Act, 1957 is not covered under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Therefore, any order passed by the rights panel on the basis of the OMMC Rules is in violation of the Act itself.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner had said that as per provisions contained in Section 14 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the tribunal shall have the jurisdiction over all civil cases where a substantial question relating to environment (including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment), is involved and such question arises out of the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule-1. But, Schedule-1 does not cover Odisha Minor Minerals (Regulation & Development) Act, 1957.