Supreme Court Mulls Ban On E-Auction Of Jharkhand Mining Blocks Within 50 Km Of Eco-Sensitive Areas
Smoke and flames surround a truck as it travels in a coal mine in Jharia, Jharkhand. (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)

Supreme Court Mulls Ban On E-Auction Of Jharkhand Mining Blocks Within 50 Km Of Eco-Sensitive Areas


The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it intends to pass an order that any proposed mining block within the 50 kilometer radius of an eco-sensitive zone will not be e-auctioned for commercial purposes in Jharkhand.

Maintaining that it only want to ensure that "forests are not destroyed," the top court also said it was mulling over setting up of an expert committee to examine whether an area near the proposed mining sites in Jharkhand qualify to be an eco-sensitive zone.

The Central government, however, vehemently opposed the suggestion of the top court saying in states like Goa, the mining would become impossible, if distance parameter is applied.

The top court observed that it may stay the e-auction of coal blocks at other places of the country, if it is brought to the notice of the court that the area is close enough to the eco-sensitive zone.

The remark was made by the top court which was hearing Jharkhand government's pleas challenging the Centre's decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining.

Also read: Birla, Adani And Sarda Energy Win Coal Blocks On Auction Day 2

A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian granted time till Friday to Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for Centre, to bring more facts related to the Jharkhand's pleas and other aspects before it.

We intend to pass orders that any proposed mining block near the 50 km radius of the eco-sensitive zone in Jharkhand will not be allowed to be e-auctioned, the bench told Vengugopal.

It said that the court is not at all sure about the intention of the Jharkhand but We only want to ensure that the forests are not destroyed.

The bench said that Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren seems to be very enthusiastic about the issue but it should be clear that even he will not be able to take advantage of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act.

At the outset, senior advocate FS Nariman, appearing for Jharkhand said that Centre has said that the lawsuit filed by the state is not maintainable and needs to be dismissed.

It sought to know from Nariman about the nature of the land meant for mining whether it is an eco-sensitive zone or not.

The issue of eco-sensitive zone is extremely important and we want a report to be submitted by an expert committee on this issue in the meantime, the bench suggested and added that advocate ADN Rao, who is an amicus in forest related matter in the top court, might suggest some experts in the field.

Also read: First Day Of Commercial Coal Block Auction Sees Strong Demand, Vedanta Bullish On Odisha Mine

Venugopal said that Jharkhand has also filed the writ petition 15 days before filing of the civil suit and in that petition they have not talked anything on the environment.

He said that now they themselves have admitted that the proposed mining is over 20 km away from the eco sensitive zone.

Also read: Commercial Coal Mining: Jindal Power Wins Block In Chhattisgarh On Day 3 Of Auction

The bench then told Venugopal that the whole problem is that you put economic value on timber but you don't put any economic value on forest. "We are not against the growth of the country but don't you think that the distance of 22 km of a mine from the eco-sensitive zone is dangerously close to the forest."

Venugopal said that if that is the case, then in Goa, the mining will not be possible, if this distance parameter is adhered so strictly.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, also appearing for Jharkhand, said that the distance from the eco-sensitive zone in the animal corridor was held to be 19 kilometer by the top court and area outside the protected area is as important as the protected area.

Singhvi said that in the present case all the seven areas in question are the eco-sensitive areas and suggested that the expert panel will not take much time.

Venugopal said that if the top court is going to stay the auctioning throughout the country then the Centre needs to argue in the matter.

Then we will stay the e-auction at other places also if it's brought to our notice that they are close enough to the mining areas, the bench said adding, any proposed mining block near the 50 km radius will not be e auctioned.

Venugopal opposing the suggestion of the court said that the Jharkhand was asking for more revenue share in the writ petition and the eco-sensitive issue and the elephant corridor was never argued.

Also read: Birla, Adani And Sarda Energy Win Coal Blocks On Auction Day 2

Please grant me one day time to show that the stopping of mining will cause irreparable damage, Venugopal said.

The bench said it would keep the matter pending and grant time to AG to bring more facts related to the Jharkhand's plea and other aspects. It posted the matter for further hearing on Nov. 6 and till then intervenors will have to wait with their plea.

On Sept. 30, the top court had observed that if an area falls under eco-sensitive zone then neither the Centre nor the state government will have the right to mine it.

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It had said that prima facie Central government is entitled to auction the coal blocks in the state but to find out if the areas in question are eco-sensitive or not, it may send some experts.

Jharkhand had earlier sought postponing of e-auction of coal block for commercial mining in the state till its suit under Article 131 is decided by the top court.

Referring to the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which deals with administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes, state's plea had said that six of the nine coal blocks in Jharkhand - Chakla, Chitarpur, North Dhadu, Rajhara North, Seregarha and Urma Paharitola -- which have been put up for auction fall within the Fifth Schedule.

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