Chennai, July 1: The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal has held that Environmental Clearances (EC) are mandatory for mining leases whether major or minor, those that are even less than five hectares area, as per the amended Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, dated January 2016.

The bench ruled that existing mining leases too will have to get EC and any mine, minor or major, shall not be permitted to operate without EC irrespective of the size of the mine, The Hindu reported.

Applications for EC that are pending as on March 31, 2016, will however have to be treated as normal applications and not as violation and authorities are directed to dispose of the applications in accordance with law, the bench of Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta said in their judgment.

Those applications filed after that date can be treated as violation applications and the MoEF or State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities can dispose of such applications as violation cases as per law, the bench said.

The judgement came on an application filed by the Tamil Nadu Small Mine Owners Federation seeking the quashing of a clarification letter issued by the MoEF on April 3, 2017 claiming that it was violative of the amended EIA Notification dated January 15, 2016.

The letter issued on April 3, 2017 had clarified that as per an earlier notification issued in January 2016, all mining leases, major minerals as well as minor minerals, operating in the country were required to obtain EC after January 15, 2016.

After hearing the parties, the bench said that it was clear that even in 2014, when the 2006 notification was amended, the distinction between major and minor minerals was taken away and any mining lease of non-coal products, having less than 5 hectares, were brought under the regime of Environmental Clearance.

Referring to earlier orders passed by the Principal Bench of the NGT, the Southern Bench said the cut-off date for filing the applications has to be limited upto March 31, 2016 and those miners who had filed applications thereafter will be treated as violators.

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