Assam commission seeks CBI inquiry into illegal coal mining worth ₹4872 cr
GUWAHATI: A commission of inquiry set up by Assam government has recommended an independent investigation by an agency like Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into illegal coal mining worth ₹4782 cr by Coal India Limited (CIL) and North Eastern Coalfields (a subsidiary of CIL) in the state.
“Because of the involvement of several departments/agencies, the commission is of the view that unless an inquiry is conducted by an independent agency, like CBI, over which the government of Assam has no control, the truth may not come out and in the process the guilty officers, will go unpunished,” it said.
The one-man commission of inquiry was set up by Assam government in September 2020 to inquire into allegations of illegal coal mining in Saleki proposed reserve forest (PRF) and in Tikok open cast project (OCP) as well as other reserve forests in Digboi forest division of Tinsukia district by individuals and organisations.
The commission headed by retired Gauhati High Court judge BP Katakey submitted its report in the winter session of the Assam assembly last month.
The commission found that Coal India Limited (of which North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) is a unit) was granted a 30-year lease in 1973 to carry out mining in nine mines in three coalfields in the Digboi forest division in Tinsukia district in a total area spread over 6174 hectares from May 1, 1973 to April 30, 2003.
It was revealed that while leases of five of the coal mines were renewed after their expiry in 2003, “there was no renewal of the other leases, after expiry of the thirty years lease”. The commission however noted that while the leases of the five mines were extended, they were not registered as required by rules.
It was also found that the leases of four mines were extended by mines and minerals department of Assam government in 2019 (16 years after expiry of lease) and the lease of the fifth mine extended in 2008 (5 years after expiry of the earlier lease).
“Such retrospective renewal of lease is not permissible,” the commission noted while adding that since the extensions were not registered, NEC and CIL “didn’t have any lease in respect of the aforesaid mines with effect from the date of expiry of the thirty year lease, i.e. from 1973 till date”.
It observed that in absence of lease from competent authority, NEC, CIL “could not have carried out any mining operation in the aforesaid mines”, which includes Tikok OCP and Saleki PRF—“such mining activities on the part of NEC, CIL are, therefore, illegal”.
During inquiry, the commission also found the NEC, CIL had violated provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 by breaking portions of the Tikok OCP for coal mining activities and other non-forest purposes without prior permission from central government.
Field visit by the commission at Tikok OCP revealed that dumping of overburdens (waste or spoil from mining) caused damage to vegetation and the surrounding environment. The commission noticed rat-hole mining in the area done by other individuals and organisations apart from NEC, CIL, but couldn’t identity those responsible for it.
The commission held the mines and minerals department of Assam and its officers responsible for failing to protect reserve forest land from illegal mining activities by NEC, CIL and other individuals and organisations.
A report based on satellite imagery of the area submitted by the Assam chief conservator of forest to the commission revealed that from 2003 to 2020 (after expiry of the existing lease) area under mining in Saleki PRF increased from 192 hectares to 1458.8 hectares. Of this 1043 hectare was within the PRF, the rest outside (479 hectare open cast mining and 979 hectare rat-hole mining).
Another report prepared by a local official estimated that apart from NEC, CIL nearly 400-40,000 persons illegally extracted 30-40 kg of coal per day (approximately 12,000 to 1200,000 kg of coal daily) from the area causing huge loss of revenue to the state exchequer.
Other recommendations of the commission included steps to end all illegal mining activities in the area and urged the Centre and state to see if all mining can be stopped. It suggested setting up of a committee headed by the state DGP to take action against those involved in illegal mining, storage and transportation of coal.