Mining: Polluters Pay Principle

Context:
  • The Union environment ministry has suggested to the Union mines ministry that the ‘polluter pays’ principle which states that those who produce pollution should pay for the damage done to human health and the environment should be included in the national mineral policy (NMP) so that the miners become “cautious” and “responsible”.
Reasons for such a move:
  • Earlier in August, the Supreme Court had passed a judgment, wherein it directed the Central government to revisit the NMP, 2008, and announce a “fresh and more effective, meaningful and implementable policy” before the end of this year.
  • The mines ministry formed a committee which included officials from various ministries including Union environment ministry after this judgment and its first meeting took place in August.
  • The committee in its recent meeting suggested that ‘polluter pays’ principle may be incorporated in the policy so that the miners become cautious and undertake mining in a responsible manner.
SC judgment regarding Polluter Pays principle
  • In 1996, the Supreme Court held the ‘polluter pays’ principle to be part of the environmental law of the country in the case of Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum vs. Union of India and Others.
  • The Supreme Court stated that the ‘polluter pays’ principle means that the absolute liability for harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also the cost of restoring the environmental degradation.
  • Remediation of the damaged environment is part of the process of ‘Sustainable Development’ and as such polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology.
  • Currently, National Green Tribunals across the country work on the ‘polluter pays’ principle as it is mentioned in its governing law: National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
Committee suggestions:
  • The committee added that prospecting license (PL) should not be allowed in very dense and thick forests as it is very difficult to give clearance in those cases.
  • A reconnaissance permit (RP) is granted for preliminary prospecting through regional, aerial, geophysical or geochemical surveys and geological mapping.
  • A PL is required for exploring, locating and proving mineral deposits.
  • A mining lease (ML) is required to finally extract minerals.
  • Also, while developing mining infrastructure in the area, it should be ensured that the process should cause only minimum damage to flora and fauna of that area by using state-of-the-art techniques.
  • Conservation of biodiversity, forest wildlife should be an integral part of NMP.
  • In order to ensure rehabilitation and reclamation of mined areas, specific timelines or clear guidelines should be formulated.
  • According to the Ministry of Mines, reclamation has to be taken up by the forest department of MOEFCC as they have collected NPV (Net Present Value) / CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority) funds.
  • But, CAMPA funds are for compensation for the trees felled on account of mining and NPV is for the damage caused to the eco-system and emphasized that it is the responsibility of miners to undertake reclamation work.