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Sharmili Mallick

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), the country's apex environment watchdog has directed to form a Special Task Force (STF) and a high-level joint committee to investigate and take strict action against the people involved in the alleged illegal mining on over 500 acres of Lord Jagannath’s land in Nijigarh-Tapang panchayat area of Khordha district.

A six-member bench of the tribunal headed by Justice Adarsh Goel, in an order released recently, has directed the Odisha Home Secretary, DGP and Chairman of State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) to hold a joint meeting within two weeks, constitute an appropriate STF and consider registering a criminal case for an investigation into the illegal mining activities in the district so that the violators can be identified and brought to justice.

The panel has also asked the State authorities to recover compensation and take restoration measures in the mined areas as preventive and remedial action for the protection of the environment and enforcement of environmental laws.

“A joint committee comprising officials from Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) (Regional Office at Bhubaneswar), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), State PCB, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Odisha and District Magistrate, Khordha may meet within two weeks to plan remedial action in this regard,” read the NGT order. 

The NGT has also added that the State PCB will be the nodal agency for coordination and compliance in this matter. It has asked the full Committee to undertake a visit to the site, interact with the stakeholders and plan further action.

The special committee has also been assigned to ascertain the identity of the law violators in coordination with the investigators or otherwise and proceed against them for enforcement of environmental norms, including action of stopping the illegal mining, added the letter.

The green tribunal has further directed the committee to submit a report by email about the action taken within four months.

“At a time when the State Government has become a mute spectator into the illegal mining on Lord Jagannath’s land, the green tribunal has expressed its concern and ordered to form a high-level committee and a special task force within two weeks. The task force will identify the miners and the officials responsible of the illegal mining and take action against them,” said the petitioner, Advocate Sankar Prasad Pani.

The petition filed before the NGT mentions that rampant mining of laterite stone at around 40 different sites in over 500-acre areas in the villages of Tapanga, Anda, Jhinki and Jhari under Nijigarh Tapang Gram Panchayat of Khorhda district is resulting in serious environmental damage and revenue losses to the State Government.

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