J’khand plea: SC to examine decision to auction coal blocks to pvt firmsUpdated: Jul 15, 2020 00:16 IST
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the central government in a plea by Jharkhand government challenging the centre’s decision to auction coal blocks situated in the state to private firms for commercial mining on the grounds that it would have an adverse impact on the state’s forest cover as well indigenous population. .
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde sought the centre’s response in the plea which alleged that centre unilaterally decided to auctions coal resources within the territory of Jharkhand without consulting the state government.
“We are inclined to issue notice and hear on the injunction (to stay the auction)”, CJI Bobde said.
The decision was welcomed by Jharkand chief minister Hemant Soren in a tweet: “As reiterated before, Jharkand Government is committed to an inclusive welfare centric development model safeguarding the environment, forests, and forest-dwelling communities; minimising socio-environmental impact.”
The Jharkand government also believes that the current adverse investment climate will mean the auctions are unlikely to generate as much revenue as they could have.
On June 10, Soren wrote to Union coal minister Prahlad Joshi seeking a six to nine months moratorium on the auction.
Rajeev Jain, additional director general and spokesperson of the coal ministry said, “Hon’ble Supreme Court has not stayed it. The policy decision was taken by the Cabinet. The government will take the legal recourse.”
Senior counsel Fali S Nariman, who represented the Jharkhand government along with senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, pointed out that the auction will take place on August 18 and the matter should be heard before that.
CJI Bobde said that the centre can extend the auction date and that Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing the centre, should look into it.
The matter is likely to be heard next on August 17.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi , on June 18, launched the virtual auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining. These coal blocks are situated in the states of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra; nine of the forty-one coal blocks are in Jharkhand.
HT has reported that several are located in biodiversity-rich forest areas in central India, including a few in one of the largest contiguous stretches of dense forest called Hasdeo Arand that spans 170,000 hectares.
The decision was part of the series of announcements made by the Government of India, under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan aimed at making India a self-reliant nation, and boosting an economy ravaged by the coronavirus disease and the lockdown imposed to slow its spread.
The Jharkhand government moved the Supreme Court in June, first by filing a writ petition and then by way of a suit under Article 131 of the Constitution, challenging the centre’s decision. Article 131 empowers the Supreme Court to hear disputes between central government and states.
“The state is the owner of the mines and minerals situated within the territory of the plaintiff (Jharkhand). “The defendant (Centre) has announced the auction unilaterally without consultation with the plaintiff (Jharkhand)”, the suit said.
Though there were consultation regarding the same between the centre and states in Februay, Jharkhand has contended that fresh consultations should have been held in view of the changed situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed to combat the same.
“The meetings of February 2020 are meaningless as they do not take into account the materially changed circumstance arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Renewed consultation with the plaintiff state was indeed required due to COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the nation and the entire globe to a standstill, in a manner never seen before,” the plea stated.
It also took objection to the fact that centre resorted to such a move during time of Covid-19 pandemic.
“The impugned action impinges the rights of the indigenous people of the plaintiff state and will lead to large scale displacement and consequential rehabilitation and re-settlement issues,” the plea added.