Gauhati HC tells judge to survey coal mining in Assam’s Dehing Patkai rainforest
The Gauhati high court directed the Assam government to arrange for the district judge’s visit to Tikok Extension open cast project (OCP), the location of the mine operated by North Eastern Coalfields
GUWAHATI: The Gauhati high court on Thursday directed a district judge to conduct a survey of alleged illegal coal mining inside the Dehing Patkai rainforest in Assam’s Tinsukia district.
A division bench comprising chief justice RM Chhaya and justice Soumitra Saikia, which is hearing six petitions on the subject including the high court’s suo moto case (on its own motion), directed the Tinsukia district judge to conduct a survey on mining and submit a report before November 1, the next date of hearing.
“In order to have the basic facts on record, we deem it fit to direct the district judge, Tinsukia to carry out survey of the areas mentioned in the petitions and place on record of the proceedings whether any mining is taking place or not and if yes, through or by whom,” the order issued on Thursday said.
The court also directed the Assam government to arrange for the district judge’s visit to Tikok Extension open cast project (OCP), the location of the mine operated by North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of Coal India Limited (CIL).
Spread across 937 sq km, Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve falls in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts and is located within the periphery of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, said to be the largest lowland tropical rainforest in India.
In April 2022, the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) recommended allowing coal mining in a portion of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve provided it fulfilled 28 pre-conditions.
NBWL allowed Coal India Limited (CIL) to conduct opencast coal mining in 98.59 hectares of the reserve forest. CIL had been carrying out mining in 57 hectares of the reserve and the fresh recommendation allowed it to start mining in another 41 hectares.
Besides elephants, leopards, hoolock gibbons, pangolins and bears, Dehing Patkai is also home to over 200 species of birds, various replies and many species of butterflies and orchids. The habitats of these species as well as the foraging routes of elephants are expected to be affected by coal mining.
The NBWL move was criticised by many, prompting the Assam government to promise that there will be no compromise on protecting the state’s forests and biodiversity.
Extraction of coal in the area had been suspended in June 2020 amid allegations of illegal mining in the eco-sensitive area. It resumed in March this year and targeted production of 1.4 million tonnes of coal annually.
In July 2020, the Assam government constituted a one-man committee comprising retired judge of Gauhati high court justice BP Katakey to probe allegations of illegal mining in Dehing Patkai.
The panel’s report, tabled in the state assembly in December 2021 said NEC illegally extracted coal worth ₹4,872 crores from the mining sites inside Dehing Patkai between 2003 and 2020 without necessary approvals.