On 31.12.2019, Circular No. 173/12/2019 was issued by the Director-General of Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) to amend the mining permit/license issuing procedure on the ground that there is a delay in the process. Circular No. 173/12/2019 repealed Circular No.118/05/2015 that provided environmental safeguards for mining activities. Under the 2015 Circular, applicants needed to obtain ‘Environmental Clearances/Recommendations’ from the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) before getting the mining permit/license for sand, gravel, clay, and soil. This safeguard was introduced in terms of Section 61 of the Mines and Minerals Act No.33 of 1992 (as amended) to mitigate the environmental impacts of mining. In terms of the 2019 Circular, GSMB can issue mining permits/licenses (for sand, gravel, clay, and soil) to applicants who have not obtained ‘Environmental Clearances/Recommendations’ from the CEA.
The removal of this environmental safeguard causes severe environmental impacts such as increases in salinity of river waters, destruction of habitats and eco-systems, loss of biodiversity, decreases in groundwater levels, and land degradation. The increase of salinity in the water impacts agriculture, food security, and drinking water quality. As a result of the salinization, the cost involved in filtering and purification of drinking water will rise at an enormous cost to the public. The erosion of river banks can degrade riparian lands and damage nearby infrastructures, such as bridges and roads. Respiratory diseases arising from dust and heavy traffic, and an increase in vector-borne diseases are the main health impacts of mining.
Being concerned with the said environmental and socio-economic impacts, Environmental Foundation (Guarantee) Ltd together with Wildlife and Nature Protection Society filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court regarding the infringement and imminent infringement of the Petitioners’ fundamental rights and those of the People of Sri Lanka, by the removing of the aforesaid existing environmental safeguards. Petitioners by this action brought to the notice of the Supreme Court the importance of having environmental safeguards in the mining permit/license issuing procedure. GSMB, the Director-General of GSMB, Minister of Environment and Wildlife Resources, CEA, and the Attorney-General were named as Respondents.
The Case was taken up in the Supreme Court before Hon. Justice P Surasena, Hon. Justice M Samayawardhena and Hon. Justice A Obeysekere. The Counsel for the parties supported the case and the Supreme Court granted Leave to Proceed and issued an Interim Order suspending the part of Circular No. 173/12/2019 that removed the aforesaid environmental safeguard until the final determination of the Case. The Court directed the Respondents to revive the 2015 Circular and to obtain ‘Environmental Clearances/Recommendations’ from the CEA before issuing mining permits/licenses to applicants (for sand, gravel, clay, and soil). The Court fixed the Case for Argument on 21.07.2022.
Mr. Viran Corea (Attorney-at-Law) with Ms. Thilini Vidanagamage (Attorney-at-Law) instructed by Lakni Silva (Attorney-at-Law) appeared for the Petitioners. Mr. Rajitha Perera, SSC appeared for all the Respondents.