Guwahati, June 5: The Division Bench of Gauhati High Court accepted the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed in connection with coal mining in the Dehing Patkai forest in Assam and gave the next date of hearing for the same in July.
Gauhati High Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre, state, Coal India and other stakeholders after taking up a suo motu case against coal mining in the Dehing Patkai forest, The Economic Times reported.
Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia informed that suo moto PIL is registered following a letter received from concerned citizens. The concerned departments were also directed to submit documents relevant to the matter. Two PILs concerning Dehing Patkai were filed in the Gauhati High Court from different quarters.
The state government in a statement stated, “Accepting both the PILs together, Chief Justice’s Division Bench stayed away from passing any interim order while directing both the Central and State Governments to submit all documents relevant to the matter. Though the appellants’ advocate sought a stay order on all mining activities in Dehing Patkai, the public prosecutor informed that there were no mining activities going on presently in the area and hence, there was no need of passing any stay or an interim order to that effect”.
Taking arguments of both the parties into cognisance, the High Court fixed the next date of hearing on July 20. The rain forest known as Amazon of East is home to Asiatic elephants. Assam forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya recently said that the coal mine in the Tikak is a British era mine and mining activities have been going on in the area for the last many decades.
North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) the Assam based coal producing unit of Coal India limited (CIL) stated that it is in the process of complying with stipulations and conditions laid down by the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) and Ministry of Environment & Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for mining Coal in Tikak Open Cast Project, falling under Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest of Digboi in Assam.
There is opposition from different quarters to coal mining in the area on the ground that it will pose threat to the environment and wildlife.
The forest minister stated that the lease term of Coal India expired in 2003.The minister said that the then State Government forward a proposal of Coal India LtdNSE 3.28 % under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 to the Government of India on April 2, 2013 requesting the Government of India to grant ex-post facto clearance for the mining already done from 2003 to 2012, and prior approval for mining to be carried out from 2012 to 2023 covering the entire area of 98.59 Hectares.
“Of this, 57.20 Hectares was already broken till 2012. The matter, as recommended by the then State Government was discussed in the Forest Appraisal Committee (FAC) of the MoEF&CC discussed the proposal on June 10, 2013 which recommended the proposal subject to clearance from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The matter was accordingly referred to the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), “the minister had informed.
The minister said that on the recommendations of the SBW, an Expert Committee comprising Dr. P.C. Bhattacharya Retd Prof Gauhati University, Dr C Mallikarjuna Prof IIT Guwahati along with local forest officers constituted by the Government, on July 8, 2015.
The minister informed that the Committee visited Tikak OCP in April, 2016 and submitted its report which was forwarded by the Government of Assam, on recommendation of the SBWL to the MOEF&CC on August 21, 2018.
The NBWL further examined the proposal and on its recommendation, another Expert Committee comprising of Prof R Sukumar of IISC Bengaluru and the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW), Assam was constituted.
The minister said that the Committee submitted its report in October 2019 for consideration of the NBWL .The Government of India imposed 28 conditions to be fulfilled in Stage 1 before grant of final approval. Pursuant to the directions of the Government of India, penal charges, Net Present value (NPV), and other charges have been imposed on Coal India Ltd to the tune of Rs 43.24 crore for mining done in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.
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