The Union Environment Ministry and the Assam government have been restrained by the National Green Tribunal from granting fresh approval to any industrial or stone crushing unit in the vicinity of the famed Kaziranga National Park or renewing the existing ones.
The tribunal, which had issued notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Assam government on January 5, asked them to respond by February 29 on unregulated quarrying and mining activities in the 'no development zone' around Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve and Karbi-Anglong Elephant Reserve in Assam.
"As an interim measure, we direct the authorities to maintain status-quo till the next date and not to grant permission for any new crusher unit or any other new industrial unit in the demarcated zone.
"The authorities shall also not renew the permission granted to stone crusher units or any other units which are functioning in the vicinity of Kaziranga National Park till the next date," said a bench of Acting Chairman Justice A Suryanarayan Naidu and G K Pandey.
The tribunal also made it clear that if no reply is filed by February 29, "the case shall be disposed of on merit and no further time shall be granted".
The orders came on a petition filed by Assam-based RTI activist Rohit Chaudhary through advocates Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Chaudhary, seeking directions to restrain the quarrying and stone crushing units around Kaziranga National Park, which harbours largest population of Indian one horned Rhinoceros.
The petition sought directions to the Ministry to "take immediate measures" to identify stone crushing and industrial units operating without prior approval in the 'No Development Zone' as demarcated in the 1996 ministry notification and to take necessary action against them including shutting them down.
The petitioner also sought directions to "the defaulting units to take measures to restore the environment" damaged due to their operations in proximity of the Kaziranga Park.
It said the 1996 notification declared the area as 'no development zone' and barred any pollution causing activity without prior approval of MoEF's.
Replies to RTI applications filed by petitioner reveal that "neither the state nor the central government has taken any measures to implement the notification", it said.
The RTI applications revealed that there are 19 stone quarrying units in the region and 10 of them are within five kilometres of the national park and the rest are situated between five to ten kilometres, the petitioner had said.
The petition said the State Forest Department has not taken any action despite being aware of the existence of stone crushing units within 10 km radius of the national park.
Kaziranga National Park is home to three-fourth of total Rhino population and largest concentration of endangered species like swamp deer, wild-buffalo, elephants, tigers and Gangetic Dolphins, the petition said.