ON 7 SEPTEMBER, while delivering a landmark judgment on a petition filed at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the green panel ordered the immediate removal of industrial units from the No-Development Zone (NDZ) near the Kaziranga National Park, the turf of the endangered one-horned rhinos in Assam.
TEHELKA was the first to expose how illegal stone-mining is expanding in and around the protected wildlife reserve, where the Assam government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) have violated their own rules to allot licences to stone-crushing industries.
A petition was filed in the NGT by RTI and environmental activist Rohit Choudhury, on 17 December 2011, alleging that the Assam government had wrongly issued permits to stone crushers in Kaziranga, violating a 1996 notification of the MoEF that declared an area within a 15-km radius of the Numaligarh Oil Refinery as NDZ. The notification requires prior permission from the MOEF to operate quarries in the area.
TEHELKA’s principal correspondent Ratnadip Chaudhury had exposed how reckless mining and stone quarrying are devouring the wild habitat in Kaziranga in ‘Where the Wild Things Were’ 12 May and ‘Renewing Licences to Make a Killing?’ 26 May.
Initially, the Assam forest department had denied the existence of stone crushers or other industrial units operating inside the NDZ near Kaziranga, while the MoEF remained non-committal for a long time. After the TEHELKA exposé, pressure mounted on the MoEF, and it finally submitted a detailed report to the NGT on the status of industries operating inside the NDZ.
On 7 September the NGT, in its final verdict, asked the Assam government and the MoEF to immediately remove 10 stone-crushing units operating inside the NDZ. Twenty three other stone crusher units that fall inside 500 metres of the boundary of the NDZ, would not be allowed to operate unless necessary pollution checks are in place, the order added. The NGT also asked the Assam government to close down 33 brick kilns found operating within the NDZ.
The green panel has further fined both the state and the environment ministry Rs 1 lakh each.
“The MoEF and the State Government of Assam have totally failed in their duties with respect to implementation of the provisions of the 1996 notification. Due to the callous and indifferent attitude exhibited by the authorities, number of polluting industries around Kaziranga has increased, posing immense threat to biodiversity and ecology” read the verdict.
MOEF provides a lifeline for the Narcondam Hornbill
THE COAST Guard has been denied permission by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for the setting up of a radar installation on the Narcondam Island; home to the only known population of the Narcondam Hornbill.
TEHELKA had first sent out one of the first distress calls to protect the endangered species on the island in its story ‘Military Plans Threaten Two Unique Species’ 28 June by Cara Tejpal. It stressed that Narcondam’s isolated coral reefs would also suffer due to the proposed project.
The proposed radar was meant to be one of the many static sensors stationed along the Indian coast to facilitate remote sensing of coastal zones. The proposal was initially sent to the standing panel of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) for clearance. After careful consideration, the NBWL asked its member Asad Rehmani, the Director of the Bombay Natural History Society, to visit the site.
The strongly worded report written by Rahmani advised against the project, much like the criticisms of independent members of the Standing Committee. When the proposal reached Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan for her consideration, many senior scientists and researchers from the Nature Conservation Foundation wrote an open letter to Natarajan advocating the protection of the Narcondam Island. The MoEF found that the Coast Guard had not mentioned alternative sites where the radar could be set up — a necessary procedure under the regulations. The MoEF has now advised the Coast Guard to look for other sites by setting up a committee to find off-shore, ship-based or land-based locations for the proposed facility.