Gauhati High Court Conducts First Hearing of PILs Against Illegal Coal Mining at Dehing-Patkai
GUWAHATI: The Gauhati High Court conducted the first hearing of the suo moto case on PIL number 3/20 along with PIL no 29/2020 and other related PILs challenging the approval granted by the 57th Meeting of National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) held on 7/4/20 for Open Cast Project (OCP) in Tikok area and in the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest, in view of the conflicting stands of various departments involved.
The court was informed by the standing counsel that certain developments had taken place on which the Court gave an opportunity to the state government to bring matters on record by way of an affidavit to be filed by 3/8/20.
It further observed that in the case, only Coal India Limited (CIL) has filed an affidavit opposing the PIL and the central and the state governments are yet to file any reply.
CIL had filed their reply putting the onus mostly on the omissions of the forest department.
The court ordered that the next hearing would take place on 1st September 2020 and further mentioned that any replication by petitioners against the affidavit of Coal India Ltd or the Assam government or the Centre may be filed within 17th August.
Advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar, one of the complainants of the PIL, speaking to G Plus said, "The 58th meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board of Wild Life was held on 3rd July. It was chaired by the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The Committee reviewed the wordings of the 57th NBWL meeting and reconsidered the report submitted by its independent member, Prof Sukumar, which was sent by email in February 2020. The report had stated that all mining activities would be suspended till the issue is completely sorted out with further discussion with Coal India Ltd as Coal India had failed to furnish any mine reclamation plan and the Assam Forest department had failed to file any feasibility report".
Earlier, the Assam government, pursuant to the PIL, took measures with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal setting up a one-man inquiry committee under former Gauhati High Court judge, Brajendra Prasad Katakey to conduct an investigation into the allegations of illegal coal mining and destruction of wildlife habitat and biodiversity at Dehing Patkai, thereby fortifying the claims of the petitioners of the various PILs filed on this issue.
However, DK Das, an advocate of the PIL number 29/20 argued that the said commission's power is confined to filing just a recommendatory report to the government which the government may or may not act upon.