Litigation Matters

Concerns with respect to adverse impact due to mining has for long been limited only to environmental groups. Of late however, the issue of mining in India, is also seen as an activity which threatens the very democratic fabric of the nation. The ‘opening’ up of the mining sector to private companies have added a new layer to the existing tiers of problems viz., increased corruption, scuttling of peoples’ voice and the control of governmental institutions by the mining giants.  India’s mining affected communities are fighting back. Using a combination of grassroots mobilization techniques, public awareness and litigation, local communities with the support of NGOs and others, have been able to challenge some of the largest mining companies in the world.

The beginning of India’s public interest litigation (PILs) on environment began with the Doon mining case in the Supreme Court in the early 1980’s. Over the years, a series of cases were filed in various courts including the Supreme Court. One of the most successful cases was the Supreme Court’s decision to stop mining by Kudremukh Iron Ore Company (KIOCL).  Over the last few years, the arena has shifted to specialized environmental courts such as the erstwhile National Environment Appellate Authority and now, the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

A new era of environmental litigation with respect to mining started about five years ago, when instead of national level NGOs approaching the court, affected communities and local groups started exercising their statutory right to challenge faulty approvals before specialized environmental tribunals using information obtained under the Right to Information Act. These affected communities were able to successfully stop planned mining activities in various parts of the country. The information obtained helped in not just proving that mining would be socially and ecologically disastrous, but also exposed corruption, undue favour and the loss to the exchequer as a result of mining.  The strategy has worked despite all the hurdles faced in approaching courts. Some of the significant victories in the last two years can shed light on this. A good example would be the case of the villagers in Mandi district, who succeeded in setting aside the approval granted for limestone mining by French mining giant: Lafarge Cements. Another case of importance is when four mining projects were cancelled in Goa after local communities proved before the environmental tribunal that false information was provided to secure approval.

In both these instances, the successes were due to the solid evidence collected by the local communities and NGOs. The use of RTI, scientific reports, ground level verification and existence of legal support/ aid were critical factors, which ensured the success. Given the fact that mining is bound to increase in the coming years it is critical that social entrepreneurs are able to support the needs to communities affected by mining. Some of the areas that could be of help are capacity building, helping communities understand the implications of mining, effective use of RTI, conducting alternative Environment Impact Assessment.

The setting up the National Green Tribunal (NGT) offers an opportunity for beginning a new era of litigation, since it has the power to award compensation for ecological damages and loss of livelihood due to mining and related activities. Thus the aim of litigation should be not just stopping new mining projects but to ensure that mining companies pay for the damages caused to the livelihood and ecology and pay for restoration of the ecology. However, civil society must develop the required institutional, technical and legal capacity to calculate damages and articulate the same before the Tribunal. This evidence-based advocacy and litigation is a challenging area to work, and is bound to help communities in saving their land and livelihood from mining

By Ritwick Dutta