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A number of path-breaking orders to curb pollution and a strict watch on illegal mining kept the National Green Tribunal (NGT) busy in 2014 as it also cracked the whip on firms polluting the Ganga.

Keeping in tune with the pledge of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clean the “holiest of the holy” river, the NGT talked tough against the polluting industrial units and applied the “polluter pays” principle.

The issue of making clean Ganga, which passes through 29 major cities, 23 small cities and 48 towns, reached the NGT after strict scrutiny of the Supreme Court which asked the green tribunal to take action against polluting industrial units including snapping water and power connections.

While the new government at the Centre created a special Ministry — River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation — to restore the pristine glory of the country’s most sacred river, the Ministry of Environment and Forest struggled hard and was dubbed as “most messy ministry” for changing its stand on the key issue of protection of ganga pollution

The environment ministry, which had junked the report on Western Ghats by Madhav Gadgil, drew the flak for opting physical demarcation by conducting a survey by the tribunal which directed immediate protection and maintenance of its environmental integrity.

There was a terse order of the NGT not to grant fresh environmental clearances or permissions to industrial units till it decides the issue of exclusion or inclusion of ESAs in the region.

However, the order which courted controversy was the blanket ban on all 15-year-old vehicles, including two wheelers, three wheelers, light and heavy vehicles, plying on the roads of the national capital with the tribunal holding a meeting of all stakeholders for its implementation.

The issue of illegal sand mining across the country did not go unnoticed with the tribunal, which made its pan India presence felt, repeatedly taking a stern stand against the mafias and even the government agencies of various states bore the brunt of green bench which pulled them up for their failure to comply with its directions.

The Centre was caught on the wrong foot on the issue of burning of agricultural waste in open fields, which is one of the major reasons of air pollution and smog, with the tribunal directing it to finalise a national policy for controlling and preventing pollution caused by straw burning.

The year also witnessed grant of environmental clearance to Reliance Power’s Chhatrasal coal mine in Madhya Pradesh being challenged in the NGT through a plea seeking quashing of the clearance given to the Anil Ambani group-led firm for construction of Sasan ultra mega power plant.

Noting that right to life was far more significant than economic interest of a state or an individual, the tribunal upheld its ban on “rat-hole coal mining” in Meghalaya but allowed transportation of extracted coal kept in the open with due “checks and balances”

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