'None can mine in eco-sensitive areas': SC tells Centre and Jharkhand on coal block auction
New Delhi/IBNS: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said prima facie the Central government is entitled to auction the coal blocks in the state while observing that neither the state nor the Centre will have the right to mine the areas that fall in the eco-sensitive zone.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde made the remarks while hearing the Jharkhand government’s pleas challenging the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining, said media reports.
The court directed the Central government to send a team of experts to determine if the coal blocks in question fall in eco-sensitive area, and file an affidavit in this regard within a week.
While hearing the case, the apex court made it clear that at the moment it is not considering the question whether the state or the Centre has the right to mine the area.
If the area is eco-sensitive none of the contending parties have the right to mine, it pointed out.
Appearing for the state government, senior advocate F S Nariman said the auction of coal blocks can be scheduled a few months later and the suit under Article 131 filed by the Jharkhand government needs to be decided.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi also appearing for the state government said the auctioning of coal blocks is against the public interest as 30 per cent of Jharkhand is covered by forests and the state has a large tribal population, which implies that the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act will not be applicable
The bench asked Singhvi how he could say that the MMDR Act is not applicable in Jharkhand on the ground that the coal blocks up for auction lie in scheduled area. It also asked which laws prohibited mining in the eco-sensitive area, as Singhvi contended that mining can be allowed only in small areas removed from eco-sensitive zones.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for Centre, asserted that the areas in question are not eco-sensitive and agreed to file an expert report showing the same.
The court also observed that it has the experience that people want to exploit the eco-sensitive areas, and if the report says the area is eco-sensitive, no one, either the Centre or the state have the right to mine there.
The Jharkhand government in two different suits have questioned the virtual auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining, and accused the Centre of unilaterally auctioning them without consulting the states, the owner of mines and minerals situated within their territory.
Referring to the Fifth Schedule, it said out of the nine coal blocks in Jharkhand, six blocks - Chakla, Seregarha, North Dhadu, Chitarpur, Rajhara North, and Urma Paharitola –up for auction, fall within the Schedule Fifth areas.
The Jharkhand government maintained that the unilateral decision of the Centre, to auction the coal blocks impinges the rights of the tribal population which lives in the scheduled area.