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Green Belt As A Mode of Maintaining Ecological Balance

Written by: Sangeetha Mugunthan - III yr BA LLB (Hons.), Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur (C.G)
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Green Belt in India refers to a buffer zone created beyond which industrial activity may not be carried on. This concept has developed through a long line of cases and today, green belts are present not only for the purpose of protecting sensitive areas to maintain ecological balance, but are also be found in urban areas so as to act as a sink for the harmful gases released by vehicles and industries operating in the city area. In this regard, comprehensive Guidelines for Developing Green Belts have been compiled by the Central Pollution Control Board [Refer Probes/75/1999-2000].

Though the exact delimitation of the area to be left as constituting green belt  varies from case to case on the type of industrial activity carried out, an inference can be drawn by analogy from case laws that at least minimum of 1 km has to necessarily be left as the green area from the outer periphery of the protected region.

The same is highlighted through the following cases:
Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board v. Sri. C. Kenchappa & Ors. (2006) 6 SCC 371
Facts: The respondent agriculturists, who possessed certain gomal lands (grazing lands for cattle), were affected by the acquisition of lands by KIADB. These lands were part of the green belt in the comprehensive development plan and also included lands reserved for the residential purposes.

The Karnataka High Court had held that for maintaining ecological equilibrium and pollution free atmosphere of the villages, KIADB is to leave land of 1 km. as a buffer zone from the outer periphery of the village in order to maintain a green area towards preservation of land for grazing of cattle, agricultural operation and for development of social forestry. This measure would preserve the ecology without hindering the much needed industrial growth, thus striking a balance between the industrial development and ecological preservation. The Court had also directed that whenever there was an acquisition of land for industrial, commercial or non-agricultural purposes, except for the residential purposes, the authorities must leave 1 km. area from the village limits as a free zone or green area to maintain ecological equilibrium.

The Supreme Court, in addition to dealing at length with the principles of sustainable development, polluter pays, precautionary principle, public trust doctrine, also emphasized on the requirement of carrying on an impact assessment and obtaining necessary clearance from the State Pollution Control Board and the Department of Ecology and Environment before execution of an industrial activity.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. [Mining Activities near lakes in Haryana] (2004) 12 SCC 118
Facts: The Haryana Pollution Control Board was directed by orders of the Supreme Court dated 20th November, 1995 to inspect and ascertain the impact of mining operation on the Badkal Lake and Surajkund, certain ecologically sensitive areas falling within the State of Haryana.

It was held that the Environmental Management Plan should be prepared by mine lease holders for their mines and actual mining operation be made operative after obtaining approval from the State Departments of Environment or HPCB. The report submitted by NEERI recommended stoppage of mining activities within a radius of 5 kms from Badkal Lake and Surajkund. It was also stated that mining leases were not to be renewed without prior no objection certificate from HPCB and also from CPCB. The Haryana Government, has on the basis of the recommendations made in the report, stopped mining operations within the radius of 5 kms of Badkal Lake and Surajkund.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. M/s. Delhi Development Authority [Surrender of Industrial lands to DDA] (2001) 4 SCC 577
Facts ? This case was in the nature of a PIL directing surrender of plots upon relocation of 'H' categories industries. More than four years had passed since the date of the order, but the purpose of the order, which was to provide some open space and green verge for the benefit of the people in Delhi, stood unfulfilled, thus resulting in deprivation of lung space in the city.

It was held that on one hand housing, sports activity and recreational areas are also part of the ?community need?, but the most important community need that is wholly deficient and urgently needed is to provide for the ?lung spaces? in the city of Delhi in the shape of green belts and open spaces. Therefore, the bench took the view that the total land, which has been surrendered and dedicated to the community by the owners/occupiers of the relocated/shifted industries, ought to be used for the development of these green belts and open spaces.

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad v. Union of India & Ors. (1997) 2 SCC 267
Amongst the several orders passed pertaining to the felling of trees in forest areas, Court held that all saw mills, veneer mills and ply-wood mills in Tirap and Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh and within a distance of 100 kms, from its border, in Assam, should also be closed immediately. Moreover, for Jammu & Kashmir, it was held that these operations would be permitted at a distance of less than 8 kms from the boundary of any demarcated forest areas. Thus, in this case too without direct reference to green belts, Court delimited the area of industrial operations.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. [Taj Trapezium case] (1996) 8 SCC 462
Facts ? Petition for the relocation of industries from Taj Trapezium (TTZ) to prevent damage to Taj from air pollution through emissions generated by coke or coal consuming industries. It is contended that these air pollutants and have damaging effect on Taj and people living in TTZ.

The Court took into consideration the recommendations of the Varadarajan Committee. Amongst its several recommendations, it stated that studies should be undertaken by competent agencies to explore the possibility of protecting the Taj monuments by measures such as provision of a green belt. Even NEERI, in its report, suggested the setting up of a green belt around the Mathura Refinery. It is to be noted that this was the first time, that the Court conceptualized a ?green belt? as an effective mode of environmental protection. Through its final judgment in this case, the green belt became a reality. However, it was only in its subsequent orders that the Court was able to draw up the exact framework i.e. in terms of area to qualify within the green belt.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. [Follow up of Taj Trapezium case I] (1998) 9 SCC 93
This was an application seeking various directions pertaining to taking action against the authorities responsible for damaging and destroying the green belt within 500 metres of Taj Mahal, use of vehicles, generators or sound equipments within 500 metres etc. As a result of this order, presently there is no access into the green belt for the visitors.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. [Follow up of Taj Trapezium case II] (2002) 9 SCC 534
This order given by the Court pertained to the maintenance of cultural heritage and historical importance within the Taj trapezium. It was found that despite the presence of monitoring stations, the air quality had still not improved. In consequence with this, a direction was given to State Govt. to find out whether unauthorized factories were still functioning within 20 kms radial circle of Taj monuments. Though there was no direct reference to ?green-belt?, this case marked an attempt to curb encroachment and illegal construction which had still not stopped, resulting in serious damage to the ecology and cultural heritage of the place.

Therefore, it can be inferred that green belt is a highly feasible technique not only as a precautionary method in environmental protection, but also in restoring ecological balance after destructive commercial activities are restrained.

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