The government lost revenue worth Rs 8,000 crore from mid-2018 to mid-2021, and at least 75,000 people were adversely impacted with around 16,000 workers losing their jobs, due to five major environment-related judgements passed by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT), a report commissioned by the NITI Aayog has estimated.
The verdicts assessed in the report include three judgements by the apex court — stopping iron ore mining in Goa, shutting down Sterlite Copper’s Tuticorin plant in Tamil Nadu, and halting consultation of Mopa Airport in Goa — and two from the NGT — the sand mining ban case, and halt on construction activities in Delhi-NCR.
According to a person aware of the deliberations about the report, these five cases were chosen due to their prominence when the report was being commissioned.
According to the report titled ‘Economic Impact of Select Decisions of the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal of India’, in the aftermath of the five verdicts, the industry lost close to Rs 15,000 crore in revenues, and workers lost around Rs 500 crore of income. The estimated revenue loss of Rs 8,000 crore to the government could have resulted in an economic impact of more than Rs. 20,000 crore if invested as capital expenditure, it said. The report was first commissioned in 2019 and has been finalised with financial support from the NITI Aayog. It was prepared by Jaipur-based policy research and advocacy group CUTS International, which submitted the report to the government think-tank this June.
In an order passed in 2018, the SC had cancelled Vedanta Ltd’s lease to mine iron ore, which the then Goa government had renewed in 2014. The order also directed mining companies to stop all mining operations until they obtained new environmental clearances and leases. Due to this ban, the report said, “State public debt increased at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.06 per cent from 2007 through 2021, while the market loans taken by the state increased at a CAGR of 19.93 per cent, consequently due to mining suspension.”
As a result of the ban on mining in the coastal state, the total revenue earned by the Goa government between financial years 2015-16 and 2017-18 was Rs 1,128.38 crore, which declined by 79.51 per cent to Rs. 231.23 crore in between 2018 and 2021, a difference of Rs. 897.15 crore, the report said.
“As a consequence of the mining ban in Goa, the central and state revenues cumulatively suffered an estimated deficit of Rs 668.39 crore in taxes paid by the mining companies, whereas the state revenues exclusively suffered an estimated deficit of Rs 1,821.32 crore,” it added.
“While quashing 88 mining leases, the SC could have directed the government of Goa to restart mining operations within a stipulated time under the court’s supervision and facilitated by a committee of subject experts including economists, environmentalists, etc” the report recommended.
It added, “Such an approach could have been informed by an impact analysis of the mining suspension, initiated and supervised by the SC itself. The analysis could have also explored the best possible environmental protection measures to keep the damage to the minimum.”
In 2019, the apex court suspended an economic clearance (EC) obtained by the Goa government towards the development of a second international airport in Mopa.
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Due to discrete judicial restraints on the construction of the airport, remobilisation of resources, and Covid-19 pandemic delays, the report said that the cost of the first phase of the airport increased from Rs 1,900 crore to Rs 2,615 crore, a 38 per cent cost over run.
In April an expert committee laid out additional environmental safeguards and conditions for the construction of the airport, which was accepted by the apex court on January 16, 2020, withdrawing the suspension from EC. The airport is slated to be operationalised in August this year.
The Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, which was shutdown in 2018 by the state’s pollution control board with the apex court later refusing to grant relief to Sterlite, impacted the incomes of the people who lost their jobs, reducing their monthly incomes by at least 50 per cent while rendering many jobless, the report said.
The judiciary needs to be equipped well to balance economic and ecological interests of the country, the report recommended. For instance, in response to the ban on construction in Delhi-NCR, which was put in place by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in November 2021 and lifted a month later, the report suggested that “the ineffectiveness of procedures adopted by the judiciary and the executive in curbing pollution highlights the existence of loopholes in set procedures and system owing to various reasons such as capacity and expertise constraints, paucity of resources, etc.”
It also said that courts should undertake economic impact analyses facilitated by a group of experts including economists, environmentalists, sociologists, among others, to address and adjudicate public interest cases involving economic sensitive matters.
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