Citations: 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169

Date of Judgement: 12/03/1985

Bench: Bhagwati, P.N. Sen, Amarendra Nath (J) Misra Rangnath

Facts:

This case is popularly known as Dehradun Valley Litigation, situated within the belt of the famous Mussoorie Hills of The Himalayas and has a rich ecosystem. However, in 1950 mining activities began to extract limestone in the region. Dynamite was used for hill blasting. As a result, the beautiful environment of the Valley started deteriorating, lost its vegetation, and many landslides occurred which killed villagers and destroyed their homes, cattle, and agricultural lands.

In 1961, the Uttar Pradesh Ministry of Mines banned quarrying in the region. Nevertheless, in the consequent year, the mining activities began and quarrying leases for 20 years were given with the approval of the State government. Later after 20 years in 1982, the State government denied the renewal of leases considering environmental degradation. 

The Allahabad High Court reversing this decision of government granted permission to quarry in the Valley. In 1983, the petitioner wrote a letter to the Supreme Court concerning the ecological destruction in the Valley. This matter was taken into consideration by the Apex court under Art.32 of The Constitution.

Issues:

  1. 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?
  2. Whether there has been a violation of the Forest Conservation Act due to the extraction activities?
  3. Whether the economic gains would prevail over ecological preservation?
  4. Whether the renewal of leases can be granted in accordance with the Forest Conservation Act, 1980?

Judgement:

Firstly, in 1985 the Court-appointed The Bhargava committee to check if the mining activities in the Valley were in compliance with the Mines Act, 1952 and after the recommendation of the committee the Court prohibited blasting operations. The court also denied leases to the most dangerous mines falling within Mussoorie city and ceased their operations. 

Further, based on the report of the committee it ordered to terminate the extraction operations in the Valley as it violated the Forest Conservation Act. The court even went beyond the requirements of the Act to conserve forest and issued orders to ensure that the valley is reforested.

Secondly, in 1987 the Court-appointed Bandyopadhyay committee to examine the report, based on ecology consideration, of the previous committee and also the conditions of people affected by the quarrying. Following the recommendations of the committee, the Court reaffirmed the termination of mining operations but said it can be granted only to secure a foreign exchange position.

This issue of renewal of leases was earlier resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Ambika Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat where 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.

The court further instructed the government to establish a Monitoring Committee constituting the Central, State, and local officials and two “public-spirited” citizens to look over the quarrying operations, reforestation, and all other aspects to restore normalcy in the Valley. It was also instructed the Government to employ the workers who lost jobs due to the closure of mining operations in the eco-task force aimed at reforestation of the area.

Personal Comment:

The Supreme Court with its landmark ruling, in this case, set a historical precedent asserting that environmental protection prevails over the economic gains. It was successful in achieving a striking balance between the economy and ecology. Due to this judgement, 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. 

It is protected under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to the wholesome environment as a fundamental right. The judgement was fair as it considered the plight of all the aggrieved parties and provided relief accordingly. The ruling also affirmed the Jurisdiction, strength, and extent of administrative offices.

(By – M. Soujanya)

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