Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 1989 SC 594)

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Bench

  1. Justice Rangnath Misra
  2. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah

Parties

Petitioner- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra & Ors.

Respondent- State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.

Introduction

“Every citizen of India must remember that he is an Indian and he has every right in this country but with certain duties.”   

Sardar Patel

Just like other things, the environment is also an important part of our life. If any disturbance is caused to the environment, it will ruin human lives. There are so many natural disasters taking place and no matter how much we are informed or educated, we as a society give more importance to economic benefit rather than ecological benefit. When such ignorance is caused on the part of humans, Environmental laws come into action. One of the features of the growth of environmental law in India is that the law has been at the instance of non-governmental organizations and public-spirited individuals. Some of the laws relating to environment are The Forest Conservation Act, 1980, The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

The Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra is one of such non-governmental organizations, situated in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. This organization has evolved as a result of litigations against atrocities for underprivileged and marginalized communities. This organization is responsible for increasing awareness of environmental issues and working for environmental conservation. It has also led to the broadcasting of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Constituents Act, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Bonded Labor Abolition Act. 

Facts of the Case

This[1] case is also known as ‘Dehradun Valley Litigation’ or ‘Dehradun Quarrying Case’. This writ petition is related to the mining of limestone quarries in the Dehradun- Mussoorie area in 1983. While this writ petition was pending, the Court appointed the Bhargava Committee for the purpose of inspecting limestone quarries. Simultaneously, the Government of India had also appointed a working group, headed by D.N. Bhargava, who was a member of the Bhargava Committee also. The Bhargava Committee submitted its report and classified the mines into three groups A, B, and C. 

On March 12, 1985, based on this report, the Court directed that the mines of C category should be closed down permanently and if the mining lessee continued to work after the expiry of the Court’s order, it would not be entitled to take advantage of the position granted to them. A similar order was made for the B category situated in the Shasradhara block. The A category mines located within the Mussoorie municipal limits were directed to submit their mining scheme for scrutiny of the Bandyopadhyay Committee. The Court, however, ordered the mines located out of the city to operate and some of the mines to be closed down. But, these mines continued to operate under the orders of other courts that had granted extension while the leases were pending in final orders. The Court urged the need to strike a balance between preservation and utilization of deposits and asked the Government to take a policy decision in this matter. The Government ordered to set up another Committee to examine the working of the limestone mines operating in the Doon valley. 

The instant case revolves around the Mussoorie hill range of the Himalayas. This hill range was considered rich in minerals which led to the activity of quarrying being carried out and limestone extracted by blasting out the hills with dynamite. This quarrying resulted in slumping and cave-ins as the mines were dug deep into the hillside. Although, this was an illegal practice per se. 

These activities destroyed the vegetation and resulted in many landslides which killed many villagers and ruined their homes, cattle, and agricultural lands. However, in 1961, the State Minister of the concerned practice had prohibited mining in the state. The State failed to comply with mining laws and quarry operations led to the reopening of mining operations which was a result of lobbying the Chief Minister with a grant of mining lease for 20 years. This illegal extension of leases and destructive corruptive practices were conducted in breach of existing mining regulations. 

Further, in 1982, the State Government rejected 18 lease renewals request on account of ecological destruction. However, the Allahabad High Court granted an injunction that allowed the applicants to carry mining by relying on the reason that economic benefits should not be hampered over ecological factors. 

Finally, in 1983, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) came up for the protection of the environment. They sent a letter raising a complaint against environmental degradation to the Supreme Court. The Court treated this letter as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. This outbreak was joined by more than 100 mines that led to complexity in litigation. 

Further, a miscellaneous application was filed by a mining lessee in the Doon valley whose mining rights were restricted in view of the judgement dated August 30, 1988. However, he was given a month to close down the mining activity. 

Issues of the Case

In this case, the Court raised the following issues:

  • Whether limestone deposits act as aquifers or not?
  • Whether mining operation should be permitted to the three lessees? If yes, under what conditions?
  • Whether environmental conservation should be given priority over the economic benefits of the nation?

Provisions used in the Case

  1. Article 32[2] of the Constitution of India, 1950
  2. Article 48 A[3] of the Constitution of India, 1950
  3. Article 51 A (g)[4] of the Constitution of India, 1950
  4. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner 

On behalf of the petitioners, the following points were contended:

  1. That on March 12, 1985, the Court decided to release the A category mines situated outside the city from these proceedings. Further, it is not open for the court in this proceeding to direct differently in regard to what it has pronounced earlier. 
  2. That while the case was in pendency, the Government had enacted the Environment Protection Act, 1986, wherein the rules are made prescribing the detailed procedure to deal with the matter and the Court should leave it to be looked up by the concerned authorities under the Act. 
  3. That there would be a complete standstill in the manufacturing of drugs, steel, and sugar, in case mining is stopped. 
  4. That the bar on mining will lead to redundancy of mine workers.

Arguments on behalf of the Respondent

The respondents contended the following points:

  1. That the environmental destruction in the Dehradun valley would obstruct the lives of the common people, infringing their fundamental right to clean environment. This right is a facet of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  2. That the rejection of restitution of lease by the public had withdrawn the consent of State for mining.
  3. That the forests come under the ambit of the Central Government, so their sanction should be compulsory for mining activities. 
  4. That the former land has been acquired by the State of Uttar Pradesh for the development of tourism. 

Judgement of the Case

In this case, the two-judge bench gave the judgement on August 30, 1988. The Court has referred to the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. This judgement has been declared in phases in the following manner:

  1. 1983- In this case, the prohibited blasting operations and appointed the Bhargava Committee to assess the mines. 
  2. March 1985- In this case, the Court pronounced the judgement by relying upon the recommendations of the Bhargava Committee. Another Committee, the Bandyopadhyay Committee was empowered to consider the plans submitted by the miners to protect the environment. The court ordered that the third group of mines, including major operations in Uttar Pradesh, could remain open because the environmental damage was not very clear. 
  3. 1987- This was based on Bandyopadhyay Committee’s report. The Court ordered that mining in the Doon Valley should cease. 
  4. 1988- In this case, the Court ordered that all the mines in the Doon Valley should remain closed, except three operations. 

In the instant case, the Apex Court dismissed the writ petition by specifying some of the points. 

  1. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 does not permit mining in the forest area. The Court held that if in the judgement of March 12, 1985, the bench had considered the provisions and impact of the former Act, it would have not permitted mining activities or any exemptions regarding such activities. The Court further added that the instant petition was raised by means of public interest litigation and even if there was a final order, in such cases it becomes difficult to entertain the plea of res judicata. 
  2. The Environment Protection Act does not have the capacity to take away the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to deal with this type of case. The Court held that most of the mines were within the forest reserved areas covered by the UP Amendment of the Forest Act, so permitting mining in such areas even with strictest restrictions would be violative of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act and detrimental to the natural restoration of forest growth. Thus, mining activities in Doon valley must be completely stopped and this can only happen when the original leases of the working mines are over. 
  3. The Apex Court added to its judgement that in order to avoid trade problems, the total ban on mining should not be sudden. The most appropriate step should be to allow the operation of three on-going mines for their initial periods, but all care should be taken to preserve ecological and environmental balance while carrying mining operations.  
  4. The Court further ruled that a monitoring committee shall look after the reforestation, the mining activities, and all other aspects that were necessary to bring about normalcy in Doon Valley.
  5. The Court directed to prioritize the lessees and workers who were left unemployed from this order in some other area.

Analysis of the Judgement

This case was a long driven one, by way of filing writ petitions. This judgement was based on justice, equity, and good conscience. This judgements is an example of the fact that the judges play a crucial role in determining the scope of powers and functions. This judgement has been very instrumental in determining that environmental degradation is should not be justified at the stake of national interest. The Court in this case has fulfilled its duties by pronouncing the closure of mining activities, along with setting up a committee to look upon whether such orders are complied with or not. The Court has also expressed concern for the people who had been rehabilitated due to the Court’s order and had been left unemployed. The Court has drawn a balance between sustained developments for generations by improving the quality of life and living in harmony with nature. The order of the Supreme Court for the closure of these units has set a precedent for enabling the residents to file a case against polluting unit, irrespective of whether it is complying with or violating the provisions of the Air Pollution Act. Thus, the judgement is satiated in its sense. 

Conclusion

The environmental problems have been a long-term issue. These issues need to be regulated and a strict solution has to be found so that exploitation of resources can be stopped. The Government of India has adopted various measures in the form of Acts, Rules, and Regulations that govern various activities that are harmful to the environment. The problem that persists is awareness. Most of the people are unaware of the implementation of these laws. The implemented laws only provide solutions to safeguarding the environment and fail to deal with the problems of the people. Thus, the need for proper implementation of environmental laws and the introduction of new legislation is an urgency. 


[1] Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1989 SC 594.

[2] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 32.

[3] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 48 A.

[4] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 51 A (g).

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