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The Dehradun Valley Litigation: Case Study
Despite recent efforts to increase forest cover to reforestation, India’s forest are in a devastated condition, with less than 18% of India under the forest cover in 1997. To ensure ecological stability, 30 per cent of the Nation should be under adequate forest cover.
All the sectors of the economy make demands on forest resources. Forest land is sacrificed for massive development projects. Large industrial interests use forest as the source of raw material for paper, pulp and rayon mills. Export of Timber products generates foreign revenue. Small businesses depend on forests as the source of wood for myriad products. Forest and wild life parks also generate tourist income. Finally, forests serve as a source of emotional and spiritual renewal for visitors from India and all over the world.
Given the breath of demands of Indian forests, it is not surprising that the problem of deforestation has gained significant public attention and that implementation of conservation and afforestation programmes have sparked intense controversy.
The most vital and judicial interpretation in the environmental field is the ongoing Forest
Forest Laws and Policy
Earlier Forests were placed in the State List of the Constitution. Forest Dept. of individual states continued to regulate forests in accord with the Indian Forest Act of 1927, as implemented by State regulations. The Indian Forest Act gives the State’s jurisdiction over both public and private forest and facilities the extraction of timber for profit. Public forests, those in which State Governments have proprietary interests are divided into 3 categories:
- Reserve forest
- Village Forests
- Protected Forests
Forest land or waste land may be notified as a reserve forest by a State Government’s declaration in the official gazette. Previously recognized individual and community rights over the forest are extinguished upon such a notification and access to the forest and forest products becomes a matter of privilege, subject to permission of forest officials acting under governing laws and regulations. The Act includes procedures for making claims against the Government for the loss of legal rights over the forest.
Village forest are established when a State assigns to a village-community the rights over any land which is constituted as a reserve forest. The government must survey the rights and claims of private persons in forests being considered for protection but may declare the forest area a protected forest pending completion of the survey. The Act authorizes state governments to close portions of the forests as long as the remainder of the forest is sufficient for individuals and communities to exercise their legal rights to use the forest. State Governments may prohibit certain activities such as gazing, cultivation, charcoal burning and stone quarrying. The State Government may also regulate all rights and privileges for use of the protected forest.
In extending to forest lands which are not the property of the Government, the Indian Forest Act represents strong governmental intrusion into private rights. State Government may regulate timber cutting, cultivation, grazing and burning or clearing vegetation on private forest land. The Act also authorizes state governments to acquire private land for public purposes under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
Countering governmental powers under the Act, the Indian Forest Act also provides protection and compensation for legally recognized individual or community rights to forests land or forest products.The forty-second Amendment Act of 1976 transferred forests from the State List to Concurrent List of the Constitution. This transfer empowered the Central Government to act directly in managing India’s forests. The Ministry of Environmental and Forests now has administrative jurisdiction over national forest policy, forestry development and the Indian Forest.
The Dehra Dun Valley Litigation: Forest Conservation And National Needs
The Dehradun Valley litigation is the first case requiring the Supreme Court to balance environmental and ecological integrity against industrial demands on forest resources. The case arose from haphazard and dangerous limestone quarrying practices in the Mussoorie Hill Range of the Himalayas. Miners blasted out the hills with dynamite, extracting limestone from thousands of acres. The mines also dug deep into the hillsides, an illegal practice that resulted in the cave-ins and slumping. As a result, the hillsides were stripped of vegetation. Landslides killed villagers and destroyed their homes, cattle and agricultural lands. The State of Uttar Pradesh failed to regulate the mining as required by existing mining laws. In 1961, the State minister of mines sharply curtailed mining in the area. In less than a year, however, quarry operations successfully lobbied with the Chief Minister of the State to reopen mining operations. Mining leases were granted for 20 years. Illegal and destructive practices continued and corrupt and ineffective state officials flouted existing mining safety rules with no enforcement.
In 1982, eighteen leases came up for renewal. The State rejected all renewal applications recognizing the extent of ecological devastation in the Valley. However, the Allahabad High Court issued an injunction allowing the applicants to continue mining, presumably in the belief that economic considerations outweighed ecological factors.
In 1983, the Supreme Court received a letter from the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, complaining against the environmental degradation, the Court treated the letter as a writ petition under Article 32. The case developed into complex litigation as lessees of more than 100 mines joined the action. The Supreme Court played an important role essentially in conducting a comprehensive environmental review and analysis of the national need for mining operations located in the Dehradun Valley. In addition, the Court provided for funding and administrative oversight of reforestration of the region.
Major Rulings of the Case:
· In 1983, the Court prohibited blasting operations, while it was reviewing to determine whether the mines were being operated in compliance with the safety standards as laid down in the Mines Act of 1952 and other relevant mining regulations. The Court appointed an expert committee (the Bhargava Committee) to assess the mines.
· In March 1985, upon the recommendation of the Bhargava Committee, the Court ordered that the most dangerous mines and those falling within the Mussoorie City Board limits be denied leases and that their operations cease immediately. The second committee (the Bandyopadhyay Committee) was empowered to consider plans submitted by the miners to safeguard the environment and to hear the claims of people adversely affected by the mining. The Uttar Pradesh government was directed to provide the necessary funds for the Bandyopadhyay Committee as well as ‘transport and other facilities for the purpose of enabling them to discharge their functions.’ The Court determined that a third group of mines, including a major operation owned by the state of Uttar Pradesh, could remain open because the environmental damage was less clear.
· In 1987, after the review of the Bandyopadhyay committee’s report, which was based on ecological considerations, the Court concluded that mining in the Valley should cease.
The Court stated that while they restate their conclusion that mining activity should only be permitted to the extent it is necessary in the interests of the defence of the country and safeguarding of the foreign exchange position.
· The Court rejected the first affidavit from the Central Government, submitted by the Director of Environment, Forests and Wildlife in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The affidavit provided detailed uses of limestone for industrial operations within Uttar Pradesh, but did not provide a satisfactory evaluation of other sources of the limestone within India and the extent to which national defence industries relied on the limestone. A second affidavit contained all the required evaluation and concluded that the continuing of mining operations of any mine in the Dehradun-Mussorie Region was not justified on the ground that it is a requirement of the defence industries.
· In 1988, the Court concluded that all the mines in Dehradun Valley should remain closed, except three operations.
Although the Dehradun Valley mining operations occupied 800 hectares of reserved forests and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was in effect in 1982, when the lessees applied to the State Government approval for the mining operations. This failure reflected confusion as to whether the requirement of the Act applied to renewal of leases or not, which had originally been granted before the Act came into force. This question was resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Ambika Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat.The Court held that the state government may renew pre-existing mining leases only with the review and approval of the centre, as required under the Forest Conservation Act.
· In the Dehradun Valley litigation, the court concluded in 1988 that continued mining in the valley violated the Forest Conservation Act. Moreover, the court went beyond the requirements of the Act to conserve forest merely and issued orders to ensure that the valley be reforested. The court noted that although the state of Uttar Pradesh had a reforestation programme, the record of reforestation was not encouraging. Later the court established a Monitoring committee comprising of the Central, State, and Local officials and two ‘public-spirited’ citizens to oversee reforestation, mining activities and ‘all other aspects necessary to bring about normalcy in the Doon Valley’. The court also provided the Monitoring Committee with funding by ordering that 25 per cent of the gross profit of the remaining mines be deposited in a fund controlled by the committee.
· Vijay Shree Mines, one of the lessee permitted by the court to operate until the expiry of its lease in 1990, misused the permission. The lessee continued to quarry limestone in an unscientific manner and in disregard of the directions issued by the Monitoring committee. In an application filed by the committee, the court held that the mining activity secretly carried on by Vijay Shree Mines had caused immense damage to the area and directed the firm to pay Rs. 3 lakhs to the fund of the Monitoring committee.
· An outcome of the Dehradun Valley litigation was the ARC Cement Case. ARC Cement operated a cement factory in the valley since November, 1982 until restrained by an order of the court. The company employed about 400 persons. In 1987, the Supreme Court declined permission to ARC to open its polluting cement factory and encouraged the company to shift it elsewhere. When the matter came up four years later, the Supreme Court was unsatisfied by the progress, primarily because the company had failed to propose an alternative site.
The Court held that it cannot go back upon its earlier order and the cement factory shall not be permitted to run at the site and therefore shifting of place has to be done. The petitioner was permitted to indicate some alternative site so that there would be an option available to the State Government and the Pollution Board to consider which of the sites offered may be acceptable to them for the purpose of shifting the cement factory from the present location.
In November 1991, the Supreme Court recorded some of the terms of a general understanding between the company and the UP State Mineral Development Corporation for the supply of limestone and other related issues. No consensus was reached on a new site and while disposing the case the court acknowledged that certain aspects of the arrangement remained to be negotiated between the parties. The efforts to relocate the cement factory failed and in February 1995, ARC Cement was ordered to wound up by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction.
Reasoning behind the Rulings
Ø In the Dehradun Valley Litigation case, the Central Government had become concerned about the destructive mining operations in the Valley at the same time when the Supreme Court took up the issue. In 1983, the Government of India appointed a Working Group to inspect the limestone quarries in the Dehradun-Mussoorie area. The same individual, D.N. Bhargava, headed both the government’s Working Group and the court’s committee came to similar conclusions as to the harmful effect of the mines on the environment. The Working Group also prepared reports for the court on the few mining operations, which were allowed to remain open.
Ø During the course of the litigation, in 1986, Parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act. The mining operators contended that as because the Act provides procedures to deal with the situation at issue, the court should dismiss the case and leave the issue to administrative authorities under the Environment Protection Act. The counsel for the miners relied on the following statement of a 1986 opinion issued in the case:
It is for the Government and the Nation and not for the court to decide whether the deposits should be exploited at the cost of ecology and environmental consideration or the industrial requirement should be otherwise satisfied.
The Court rejected the miners’ arguments the ground that the litigation had already commenced and significant orders had been issued by the court before the adoption of the Environment Protection Act.
Ø There was no conflict in the opinions of the court and the Central Government in the instant case. After the Courts’ ruling, the centre designated the Valley as an ecologically fragile area under the Environment protection Act. In addition, it appointed a Doon Valley Board, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Environment and Forests, which was charged with conserving and restoring degraded areas of the Valley.
Ø The Supreme Court concluded that mining in reserved forests in the Dehradun valley violated the Forest Conservation Act. However, the Forest Conservation Act only prohibits non-forest activities on forest lands that do not have the approval of the Central Government.
Ø In addition to ecological integrity and national interests, the Supreme Court was also concerned with the welfare of mine operators and labourers left unemployed by closure of the Dehradun Valley operations.
The Court issued the following directions to try to mitigate the effects of closing the mines:
(a) Orders that mine lessees whose operations were terminated by the court would be given priority for leases in new areas open to limestone mining; and
(b) Orders that the Eco-task Force of the central department of Environment reclaim and reforest the area damaged by mining and that workers displaced by mine closure be given priority for jobs with the Eco-Task Force operations in the region.
1) Based on the principles laid down in the Dehradun valley litigation, the Supreme Court clarified that the renewal of a lease should be in accordance with the law in operation on the date of renewal. Earlier renewal was not a vested right and unless prior concurrence of the Central Government was obtained mining in a forest area was completely prohibited. The approval of the Central Government is a condition precedent and the grant of a lease or renewal without such approval renders the lease void.
2) The Madras H.C reprimanded officials for granting a mining lease to golden granites in reserved forests in Tamil Nadu. The Court held that the impunged order permitting quarrying of black granite though subject to a special condition that the commencement of operation should await Central Govt. concurrence, failed to give effect to the words ‘prior approval’ in sec 2 of the Forest Conservation Act,1980.’
3) Likewise, the Andhra Pradesh and Patna H.C’s have held that no mining operations may be carried out unless prior approval of the Central Government is granted in favour of renewing a mining lease in a protected or reserve forest.
4) In the Hyderabad Abrasives case, the Court held that the lessee may obtain Central Government approval after the lease but prior to carrying on any work in the forest.
5) The Himanchal Pradesh H.C followed the lead provided by the Supreme Court in the Dehradun Valley Litigation to protect the Saproon Valley from degradation. The Mountains of Saproon valley are rich in limestone deposits that have been quarried for over centuries. The expansion of unscientific and unsystematic mining operations in the 1980s caused severe water pollution and soil erosion. In a public interest litigation filed by the residents of Saproon Valley, the H.C abided by the recommendations of the approved committee and ordered the mines where scientific mining was not economically viable or technically possible to shutdown. Other mines where further mining was possible subject to safeguards and precautions were permitted to continue under the supervision of monitoring committee.
6) The Supreme Court in Samatha v State of Andhra Pradesh held that
Mining operations though detrimental to forest growth, are part of lay out of the industry, provision should be made for investment or infrastructural planning to reforest the area and to protect environment and regenerate forest. The Ministry of Environment and Forest and all Secretaries of all the State Government holding charge of forest departments have a duty to prevent mining operations affecting the forest. It is the duty to ensure that the industry or enterprise do not denude the forest to become menace to human existence nor a source to destroy flora and fauna and biodiversity.
The Constitution of India guarantees the Right to wholesome environment as a fundamental right under Article 21. Development comes through industrialization, which is the main factor behind the degradation of environment. To resolve this issue the doctrine of sustainable development has come up. i.e., there must be balance between development and ecology. Environmental degradation is not justified on the stake of national interest. Administrative and legislative strategies for harmonizing environmental and developmental values are a must and are to be formulated according to the needs of the socio-economic conditions in the country. Courts play a very crucial role in determining the scope of the powers and functions of administrative agencies and in striking a balance between the environment and development. The need of the hour is to strike a balance between the two i.e., development on one side and pollution free environment on the other. A process by which development can be sustained for generations by improving the quality of human life while at the same time living in harmony with nature and maintaining the carrying capacity of life supporting eco-system. It focuses at integration of developmental and environmental imperatives. Thus, sustainable development is the only answer and administrative actions ought to proceed in accordance therewith.
# Reply by the Union Minister of environment and Forests to Rajya Sabha. Dense Forest covers only 12% of the land. Centre for science and Environment, State of India’s Environment: The citizens’ Fifth report,111 (1999)
# T. N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad v Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 1228; AIR 1998 SC 769 and AIR 1997 SC 97.
# Section 4
# Section 9
# Section 15
# Section 28
# Section 29
# Section 30
# Section 31
# Section 35
# Section 37
# Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh
# The Indian Constitution
# AIR 1985 SC 652, 656
# AIR 1988 SC 2187, 2204
# AIR 1987 SC 1037
# 1991 (3) SCC 347
# ARC Cement Ltd. V State of UP 1993 Supp (1) SCC 57
# 1993 Supp (1) SCC 426
# ARC Cement limited v Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, 1998 (71) DEL. L.T. 213
# AIR 1987 SC 359, 363
# Divisional Forest Officer v S. Nageswaramma 1996 (6) SCC 442. Prior to this decision, a full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that a lease may be granted by a state government but no forest may be cleared until Central Government approval was obtained. This view may not be valid after the judgment in S. Nageswaramma’s case. Hyderabad Abrasives and Minerals v Government of Andhra Pradesh 1990 (1) ANDH. L.T. 180
# Samatha Vs. State of A.P AIR 1997 SC 3297,3346,3348
# GoldenGranite vs. K.V Shanmugan AIR 1998 Mad 150, upholding the single judge order reported at K.V Shanmugan Vs. State of T.N AIR 1997 Mad 338.
# Shakti Vs. State of A.P W.P No.3734/ 1993, Andhra Pradesh H.C, 27 August 1993.
# Nirmal Kumar Pradeep Ku. Vs. State of Bihar, 1994 (1) BIH. L. J. R.E.P.524 & Bihar State Mineral Development Corporation vs. State of Bihar, 1998 (3) BIH. L. J. R.E.P 1676
# Hyderabad Abrasives and Minerals v. Government of Andhra Pradesh 1990 (1) ANDH. L.T. 180
# General Public of Saproon Valley v State of Himanchal Pradesh AIR 1993 HP 52
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