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Gauhati HC orders probe on illegal mining at Dehing Patkai

GUWAHATI:

The Gauhati High Court on September 8 ordered a judicial probe by Tinsukia District Judge into the illegal mining by state-run Coal India Ltd at Tikak colliery inside Dehing Patkai National Park in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district.

A single bench judge of Gauhati High Court comprising Justice Soumitra Saikia passed the order based on suo moto PIL (PIL No 3/2020).

The High Court, on June 4, 2020, registered a suo motu case against coal mining in the Dehing Patkai Reserve Forest after hearing three Public Interest Litigations (PILs) challenging the approval granted by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) for Open Cast Project (OCP) in Tikok area and in the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest, given the conflicting stands of various departments involved.

The PIL no 29/2020 was filed by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amarjyoti Deka challenging the approval granted by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) for Open Cast Project (OCP) in Tikok area and in the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest, given the conflicting stands of various departments involved.

Advocate Santanu Borthakur, who filed the other PIL along with colleague Vikram Rajkhowa, said their petition sought to declare Dehing Patkai, known as the ‘Amazon of the East, as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

“To have the basic facts on record, we deem it fit to direct the District Judge, Tinsukia to carry out a survey of the areas which are mentioned in the petitions and place on the record of the proceedings whether any mining is taking place or not and if yes, through or by whom. It would be open for the District Judge, Tinsukia to take the assistance of any technical person for preparing any sketch,” the court said in the order.

“The state government is further directed to arrange for the visit of District Judge, Tinsukia at the place of mining i.e. Tikok Extension OCP in Margharita over land measuring 127B-4K-15L of Dag No. 194 of Ledo Tikak 2 No. NLR grant and land measuring 296B-4K-05L covered by Dag No 131 and 229B-03K-2L covered by Dag No. 132 of Ledo Tikak NC gaon,” the order also said.

“Such report shall be furnished to this court on or before the next date of hearing. List the matters again on November 1, 2022,” the order further said.

The PIL alleged that on inspection of the area by the Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shillong, it was found that, “During the site inspection it was found that North Eastern Coal Fields (NECF) was carrying out illegal mining of coal in the project area. It was also found that apart from the 57.2 hectares that were broken up and mined since 2003, the NECF had further illegally broken up another 9 hectares of forest land and mining was continuing therein. It was also found that another area of 7 hectares was cleared up for further mining. Thus, what had emerged from the inspection was that apart from the 57.2 hectares already broken up and used, another 16 hectares of forest land has been utilised by the NECF and as of date the unbroken area stands at approximately 25 Ha.”

“The petitioners humbly beg to state that the Standing Committee proceeded on a factually incorrect premise that only 57.20 ha of forest land has been broken up whereas in reality an additional 16 Ha out of the original 98.59 Ha has been broken by the user agency without seeking prior approval and mining operations therein are being carried out in a rampant manner. Such a glaring factual error has led to the award of ex-post facto approval in favour of Coal India Limited,” the PIL read.

Citing that the illegal mining carried out by Coal India Ltd in Saleki PRF is violative of the right to life of the citizens of the state guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the instant petition is being filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India espousing the cause of the people of the state of Assam to safeguard the flora and fauna, particularly the wildlife of the Dehing Patkai Forest Reserve and to protect the ecological balance of the entire state.

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