July 13, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

SUPREME COURT’s DECISION ON UNREGULATED SOIL EXTRACTION FOR LINEAR PROJECTS

TAG: GS 2: POLITY

THE CONTEXT: The Supreme Court recently rendered a significant decision regarding the Environment Ministry’s notification exempting the extraction of ordinary earth for linear projects from obtaining Environmental Clearance (EC).

EXPLANATION:

  • This decision followed a legal challenge to the exemption, underscoring the importance of regulatory oversight in environmental management.

Background of the Exemption: Legal Framework

  • The Environment Ministry issued a series of notifications under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, outlining activities requiring prior EC.
  • The 2020 exemption, introduced in March 2020, added “Extraction or sourcing or borrowing of ordinary earth for linear projects such as roads, pipelines, etc.” to the list of exempted activities.
  • The exemption purported to aid public interests, particularly benefiting various stakeholders such as potters, farmers, and local communities.

Legal Challenges: Grounds for Review

  • The exemption faced legal challenges, primarily on the grounds of arbitrariness and violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • The petitioners argued that the exemption circumvented legal procedures and failed to incorporate necessary safeguards, as mandated by previous judicial precedents.
  • Additionally, the exemption was criticized for being hastily issued during the Covid-19 lockdown, without due consideration of public objections.

Judicial Review Process: Scrutiny by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Supreme Court

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Environment Ministry to review the exemption within three months, emphasizing the need for balanced regulations and environmental safeguards.
  • However, the Ministry’s delay in compliance led to the matter being escalated to the Supreme Court.
  • In its decision on March 21, the Supreme Court invalidated the exemption, citing its arbitrary nature and lack of procedural fairness.

Legal Rationale for Supreme Court’s Decision

  • The Supreme Court identified several key deficiencies in the exemption, leading to its annulment:
    • Arbitrariness and Lack of Clarity:
      • The exemption was criticized for its blanket nature, lacking specific definitions of “linear projects” and failing to delineate extraction quantities and areas.
      • This ambiguity rendered the exemption arbitrary and contrary to Article 14 of the Constitution.
    • Failure to Incorporate Safeguards:
      • The Supreme Court emphasized the absence of safeguards in the exemption, undermining the regulatory objectives of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
      • The exemption lacked provisions for environmental impact assessment and public consultation, essential elements for responsible environmental management.
    • Procedural Irregularities:
      • The Supreme Court highlighted procedural irregularities in the issuance of the exemption, particularly during the Covid-19 lockdown.
      • The Ministry’s failure to justify the exemption’s public interest rationale and its hasty implementation raised concerns about due process and administrative fairness.

Implications and Precedents: Judicial Scrutiny of Environmental Exemptions

  • The Supreme Court’s decision adds to a series of judicial interventions scrutinizing exemptions under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • Past cases have highlighted the importance of prior approval mechanisms, environmental impact assessments, and public consultations in ensuring responsible environmental governance.

SOURCE: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-law/why-supreme-court-barred-unregulated-soil-extraction-for-linear-projects-9245830/

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