The Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday stayed the e-auction of 115 minor mineral (sand or gravel) quarries in 19 districts of Punjab. The e-auction had been challenged on the ground that now the highest bidder has been compelled by the state government to seek prior environment clearance for mining operations. Earlier, the state government used to take such clearance from the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF).
The decision came from the division bench headed by justice Jasbir Singh on a petition filed by Chandigarh resident Barinder Singh Dhillon. The state was to hold the e-auction of minor mineral quarries from July 1 to 3 as per the auction notice issued on June 14.
When the case came up for hearing on Monday, the state government counsel informed the court that the authorities had decided to postpone the e-auction to July 9-11. But the decision did not go down well with the court, which posted the case for next hearing for July 15 and directed the state government as well as the Centre to file detailed replies. The court also asked the counsel to reply as to what was the problem if the state government took environment clearance.
However, appearing for the Centre, senior standing counsel Onkar Singh Batalvi informed the court that as per the petition, it seemed that the Punjab government had tried to circumvent the MoEF's notification dated September 14, 2006, and the Supreme Court directions on mining clearance.
The e-auction has been proposed for minor mineral quarries in the districts of Faridkot, Moga, Barnala, Sangrur, Ferozepur, Mansa, Nawanshahr, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Rupnagar, Hoshiarpur, Fazilka, SAS Nagar, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Ludhiana, Pathankot and Kapurthala.
The petitioner had informed the court that as per the June 14 notice, obtaining prior environmental clearance by the state government, as directed by the high court, vide order dated November 6, 2009, and September 5, 2011, on a petition, "Partap Singh Sandhu vs Union of India", and confirmed by the Supreme Court vide order dated January 10, 2011, had completely been ignored. The court was informed that the highest bidder had to himself obtain approval of the environment management plan from the district-level committee.
The court was also informed that the procedure laid down in the MoEF's notification of 2006 for obtaining environment clearance was cumbersome and a minimum of 270 days were required for the same.