Read Judgment: Binay Kumar Dalei & Ors. V. State of Odisha & Ors. 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, March 3, 2022: While hearing a case for the cancellation of lease of the eco-sensitive zone of land by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court has directed the State Government to implement the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan and complete the process of declaration of the traditional elephant corridor as conservation reserve as provided in Section 36A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

A Division Bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai also directed the State of Odisha to implement the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan as suggested by the Standing Committee of NBWL before permitting any mining activity in the eco-sensitive zone. 

Going by the background of the case, the Rural Organization for Social Empowerment (eight respondent) approached the National Green Tribunal, New Delhi (NGT) seeking a direction to the opposite parties to cancel the stone quarry leases granted pursuant to an advertisement dated August 17, 2017. A Direction was also sought that no further lease shall be granted in the Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary and the eco-sensitive zone lined to it, as were notified in the notification dated August 9, 2017. It was further prayed that an enquiry should be conducted into the illegal and unlawful advertisement for long term leases in the wildlife sanctuary. 

Based on the report submitted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Head of Forest Force [PCCF (HoFF)] after conducting an inspection of the Eco-Sensitive Zone surrounding the Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, the NGT directed the State Government to take steps for bringing the entire corridor within the ambit of eco-sensitive zone and prohibit ingress into the eco-sensitive zone. 

Pursuant to this order of the NGT, Tehsildar Khaira directed the stoppage of operations of stone quarries in the Sarisua Hills. Thereafter, the NGT directed that no mining activity shall be permitted within and in the vicinity of Simplipal – Hadagarh – Kuldiha – Simplipal elephant corridor. The Tribunal ordered completion of the process u/s 36 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for declaration of conservation reserve in respect of the elephant corridor within a period of three months. 

Hence, the present appeal was filed by the lease holders of the stone quarries (Appellants) challenging the correctness of the orders passed by the NGT. 

After considering the submissions, the Top Court found that the main contention of the Appellants was that their stone quarries are not amongst the 11 quarries which are said to have ingressed into the eco-sensitive zone, and that their stone quarries are not within the eco-sensitive zone and there is no reason as to why the operation of their quarries should be stopped.

Appellants have assailed that part of the order issued by the NGT by which mining activity in the vicinity of Similipal – Hadgarh – Kuldiha – Similipal Elephant Corridor has been ordered to be stopped, as according to the Appellants and the State Government there is no justification for stopping mining activity in the area which does not fall within the eco-sensitive zone, added the Court. 

Speaking for the Bench, Justice Rao noted that the contention of Appellants were opposed by the counsel for eight Respondent by submitting that no mining activity can be permitted even in the vicinity of an eco-sensitive zone unless the Comprehensive Wildlife Management Plan has been implemented and Section 36A of the Act has been complied with. 

The objection on behalf of Respondent is only on the ground that the comprehensive wildlife management plan has not been implemented and that Section 36A of the Act has not been complied with, added the Bench. Hence, the Top Court disposed of the appeal by directing that mining operations of 97 quarries shall be permitted only after declaration of the traditional elephant corridor as conservation reserve as per Section 36A of the Act.

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