NEW DELHI: Three days after the Uttarakhand disaster, in which a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off triggering an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system, the Supreme Court on Wednesday adopted a cautious approach and asked union environment ministry to do an impact assessment on removal of boulders from the river bed system in Himachal Pradesh.
The top court asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to assess the impact of removal of boulders from the river bed system in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh and how it will affect the flow of rivers including its tributaries.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian observed that removal of sand and stones from the river bed has created problems in Kerala, which has witnessed massive floods a couple of years back.
"It is a well known fact that stones and boulders have a direct impact on the flow of rivers. We find it imperative to direct the MoEFCC to do an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed site and specifically make a report whether it will have an adverse impact on the flow of the river," the bench said.
The top court directed that the cost of EIA shall be borne by a company Paras Stone Crusher, who sought court's nod to carry on its business and collect boulders falling in the river bed from nearby forest areas in Kullu district of the state.
The Counsel appearing for the company said that they have environment clearance for the proposed site and are engaged in the business of stone crushing, which involves collection of naturally occurring stones and boulders as raw materials for use in stone crushing factories and thereafter selling the output produced as 'aggregate'- a material used in various types of construction work.
The bench asked the counsel as to which authority has given the environment clearance?.
Advocate ADN Rao, appearing as amicus curiae in the matter, told the bench that the state level environment impact assessment committee has granted the environmental clearance but no EIA has been done.
He said that he has no objection to the firm collecting stones and boulders but in the garb of collecting these naturally occurring stones, it should not indulge in sand mining.
The bench said that it would like to have EIA done on the proposed site and asked Rao to suggest the agency which could do the assessment.
Rao said that the zonal office of MoEFCC can do the EIA and it can furnish the report to the court.
The firm has said that the top court in its earlier order has restrained diversion of forest land in its favour.
It said that the proposed site has a high volume of natural accumulation of stones and boulders.
"The high build-up of stones and boulders at the said site has been continuing nuisance and safety hazard because it disturbs the flow of the river, diverting its path and causing extensive damage to nearby private and public lands," it had said.
The stone crusher company referred to the 2012-2013, flash floods in the areas and said it was caused due to build up at the said site and had destroyed the army bridge, a local school and the Border Road Organisation (BRO) roads in the area.
It said that the site is devoid of tree cover and no felling of trees will be necessary for execution of the proposed project.
A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on Sunday, triggering an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system that washed away hydroelectric stations and trapped more than 100 labourers who are feared dead.
So far, 32 bodies have been recovered from different places in the disaster-hit areas of Chamoli district.
Eight bodies have been identified and 174 people are still missing, the State Emergency Control Centre in Dehradun said.
The sudden flood in the middle of the day in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers -- all intricately linked tributaries of the Ganga -- triggered widespread panic and large-scale devastation in the high mountain areas.
Two power projects - NTPC's Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project - in the State were extensively damaged with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels as the waters came rushing in.