J&K Govt to support Centre’s stand, seek review of directive

Gypsum mines continue operation in eco-fragile Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary
Representational Image
Representational ImageFile/GK

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to support the Centre’s stand against the Supreme Court’s directive that protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country should have a 1-km radius of Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) and no mining or other activity should be permitted there.

A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai, and Aniruddha Bose had given these directions in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) T N Godavarman Thirumalpad versus the Union of India on June 3 this year.

The court directed that “mining within the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries should not be permitted”.

As per the directive, commercial mining, setting up of sawmills and industries causing pollution, establishment of major hydroelectric projects, production of any hazardous substances, undertaking activities related to tourism like flying over the national park area by aircraft and hot air balloons, discharge of effluents, and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial areas, hotels, and resorts have been directed to be made prohibited activities.

A 10-km ESZ was declared by the Centre in 2001, but successive State governments failed to execute it. Though the apex court issued many deadlines to declare ESZ since 2006 and the Centre issued guidelines in 2011, the State governments repeatedly failed to execute it.

The court directed that respective Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Home Secretary of each state and union territory should be responsible for proper compliance of these guidelines regarding nature and use of ESZs of all national parks and sanctuaries.

They were directed to file the compliance report within three months.

Jammu and Kashmir houses national parks in Dachigam, Kazinag, and Kishtwar besides wildlife sanctuaries in Gulmarg, Overa-Aru, Thajawas, Baltal, Rajparian, and Lachipora.

As per the new ESZ guidelines by the Supreme Court directive, several mines functioning in and around Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary in Uri area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district fall within 1-km radius of ESZ.

The sanctuary is home to several wildlife species including endangered Markhor and birds, especially Western Tragopan.

The official data confirms that 10 mines fall within the minimum 1-km wide ESZ from the boundaries of protected areas of wildlife.

Despite the Supreme Court’s direction, these mines are functional in the eco-fragile area.

“We will soon file a compliance report to the Supreme Court and highlight problems in implementation of its directions. No activity can be undertaken in ESZs and this is likely to affect the livelihood of residents. There are many gypsum mines that are out of notified zone but fall within 1-km radius as per the Supreme Court direction,” Suresh Kumar Gupta, Chief Wildlife Warden J&K (Principal Chief Conservator of Forests) told Greater Kashmir.

“Like some other states, the J&K government has decided to file a review petition against the SC order. We will go with the Centre’s stand,” Gupta said.

Following protests by several states, the Centre has decided to file a review petition against the SC directive.

Union Minister for Environment and Forest Bhupender Yadav has assured that the Centre would approach the Supreme Court to seek review of its recent verdict on the ESZ. 

The Centre is seeking review of Section 44 (A) and 44 (E) of the judgement.

The sections pertain to the directive to notify ESZs of minimum 1 km from the demarcated boundaries of protected areas, and the exemption is given for the ongoing activities within the proposed ESZ provided they did not figure on the “prohibited list”.

In 2001, a 10-km ESZ was declared by the Centre around protected areas and national parks.

However, successive governments of states and union territories failed to execute it.

The SC has issued many deadlines to declare ESZ since 2006 and the Centre issued guidelines in 2011 but the respective governments failed to execute it.

The SC judgment nullifies the area-specific ESZ boundary limit around the protected areas as previously announced by the Supreme Court and would apply to all states and union territories where the minimum extent of the ESZ was not prescribed.

Acting on the apex court’s judgement, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of the Forest Force (HoFF) J&K on June 9 wrote a letter to the Chief Wildlife Warden to take immediate steps to comply with the directions to enable him to file a compliance report.

Wildlife Warden North Division (Sopore) reported that 12 mines were falling within 1 km of Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary.

“It is requested that the directions given in the judgement dated June 3 may kindly be implemented so that the J&K government is able to file compliance report before the Supreme Court within the prescribed period of three months. It is as such requested that the concerned Police authorities, Geology and Mining Department, Review Department and all concerned stakeholders be directed to close down the mining units so that there is no violation of the Supreme Court orders. The Supreme Court’s directions are time-bound,” Wildlife Warden North Kashmir Division Sopore writes to Deputy Commissioner Baramulla on June 30, 2022 vide letter WLN (N) Esst 2022-23(91-40).

A committee headed by Sub Divisional Magistrate Uri as chairman and comprising Divisional Forest Officer Baramulla, Wildlife Warden North, District Officer Geology and Mining Baramulla, District Officer PCC, Tehsildar Boniyar, District Law Officer Baramulla, and SDM Uri was constituted on July 26, 2022 to ascertain whether the mining units mentioned by the Wildlife Department operate within or outside the ESZ.

The committee quoted a notification of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change wherein the extent and boundaries of the ESZ around the Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary was notified.

It said that the extent of ESZ kept on varying from 0 to 5 km at various locations in different directions due to the Line of Control and also due to human settlements.

The committee concluded that of the 15 listed leased-out gypsum mines, four were non-functional and one was found to be falling either fully or party within the limits of the protected area of Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary in contravention of the rules

“Ten gypsum mines were found to be falling within the minimum 1-km wide ESZ from the boundaries of protected area of wildlife. Only one gypsum mine is found to be falling outside the ESZ. Hence the report is submitted for necessary action and necessary implementation of the Supreme Court order,” the committee stated in its report.

“Gypsum mines are operational in Lachipora. We are awaiting further orders whether to close them or allow their operation from higher authorities,” District Mines Officer Baramulla, Zahid Ahmad said.

Director Geology and Mining O P Bhagat told Greater Kashmir that they would await the decision of the Supreme Court and take action accordingly.

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