It demands the iron ore miner’s right to mine in land that MoEF says is a tiger corridor

The National Green Tribunal’s powers to take up cases about wildlife have been challenged. The question of the tribunal’s jurisdiction has cropped up in a petition filed by an iron ore miner in Kohlapur, Maharashtra, asking for renewing his right to mine in a piece of land the government has said is a tiger corridor.

The case pertains to a mine operating in a village that falls between the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary but the case could now take a greater significance, besides deciding the fate of the tract of land between the two tiger-bearing areas that the environment ministry said is a corridor used by tigers.

The mine owner who applied for renewal of his lease to mine iron could not secure the forest clearance as the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) — the apex body of the government in charge of tiger conservation, under the environment ministry — said the lease fell in a wildlife corridor that needed protection.

The NTCA said so on the basis of research conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India for demarcation of land corridors used by tigers in 2010. The Wildlife Institute of India, the government’s premier body on wildlife conservation science, said in 2010 that, “The block (where the mining occurs) is in the crucial corridor link between the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary. It is crucial for tiger movement in the Northern Western Ghat area in the State of Maharashtra. Small tiger populations in this area cannot be sustained without maintaining crucial connecting corridor links.”

The miner who was aggrieved, approached the National Green Tribunal claiming that his mine did not fall in the tiger corridor and the process of demarcating the corridor had not been legally carried out under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Government’s defence

In the latest affidavit filed by the environment ministry in the ongoing case, the government defended its decision. But it also went a step ahead, stating that the miner, if aggrieved about the creation of the tiger corridor under the Wildlife Protection Act, can approach the “competent authority” under the Wildlife Protection Act.

The green laws that the tribunal is empowered to adjudicate on does not cover the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, though the body is empowered to deal with issues pertaining to forest clearances under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, besides other regulations and legislations.

The laws under its jurisdiction are specifically listed in the rules to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The NGT is expected to hold the next hearing in the case soon, with the petitioner now also having claimed malafide intent on the part of the officials in declaring his mine area as part of a tiger corridor.

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