SC says Nov 9 e-auction of 34 coal blocks will be subject to its orders

By: |
November 6, 2020 7:54 PM

Jharkhand had sought postponing of e-auction of coal block for commercial mining in the state till its suit under Article 131 is decided by the top court.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 8.

The Supreme Court Friday categorically told the Centre that the November 9 e-auction of 34 coal blocks, including five in Jharkhand, shall be subject to its final order.

The apex court also asked the Centre to inform the bidders that benefits of any nature to them will be provisional.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was told by Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that no trees will be cut in the area.

The bench, in its order, said “the matter shall stand over till after vacation. In the meantime, any action in the matter that may be taken by the defendants (Centre) shall be subject to orders of this court”.

It said, “The defendants (Centre) shall take care to inform the recipients of any benefit of any nature that the action is provisional in the sense that it will be subject to the orders passed by this court”.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on December 8.

At the outset, the bench told Venugopal that due to paucity of time it will not hear this matter at length.

It said that the AG had earlier told the court that the action on the ground will be taken after two years.

“What we are proposing to do is that we will say any action you will take will be subject to our orders and we will fix it immediately after reopening,” the bench told Venugopal.

Senior advocates Fali S Nariman, A M Singhvi and additional advocate generals Arunabh Choudhury and Krishnaraj Thaker, appearing for Jharkhand said, that cutting of trees in the area should be prohibited.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for an intervenor NGO ‘Jharkhand Nagrik Prayas’, said that the Centre should ensure that there should not be any cutting of trees till then.

Vengopal submitted that they have already said that there will not be any cutting of trees.

In its note filed in the matter, Centre has given details of coal mines which are to be auctioned and their distance from nine eco-sensitive zones/ protected area/wildlife sanctuary.

It has said out of nine coal blocks, five will be auctioned while auction of four coal mines–Choritand Tiliaya, Chitarpur, North Dhadhu and Sheregarha-have been cancelled due to receipt of less than two bids.

On November 9, financial bids will be opened for five other coal blocks of Jharkhand which include–Gondalpara, Rajhara North, Urma Paharitola, Brahmadiha and Chakla.

It has also referred to various cases laws and office memorandum of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with regard to procedure for consideration of development projects located within 10 kilometer of National Park/Wildlife Sanctuary seeking environmental clearance under the provisions of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006.

In the suit filed by Jharkhand on the same issue, the Centre in its written statement filed on September 15, has stated that it has initiated the process of auction of 41 coal blocks under the provisions of the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 and provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 on June 18, 2020.

It said that on July 21, one coal mine located in Maharashtra was withdrawn from the auction in consultation with the state government, leaving 40 coal mines.

The Centre further said that thereafter in consultation with Chhattisgarh government five more coal mines were withdrawn from auction and three new mines were added in the present tranche of auction.

It has said that total of 38 coal mines are to be put up for auction in the present tranche.

However, after the auction was cancelled for four mines in Jharkhand, the total number of coal mines remaining to go under the hammer is 34.

On November 4, the top court had said it intend to pass an order that any proposed mining block within the 50 kilometer radius of an eco-sensitive zone will not be e-auctioned in Jharkhand and a similar direction may be passed if such things are brought to its notice from other states.

Maintaining that it only wanted to ensure that the “forests are not destroyed,” the top court also said it was mulling over the setting up of an expert committee to examine whether an area near the proposed mining sites in Jharkhand qualifies to be an eco-sensitive zone.

The Centre had opposed the remarks of the top court saying the mining sites were at a distance of 20 to 70 kms from such eco-sensitive zones and in states like Goa, the mining would become impossible, if this distance parameter is applied.

On September 30, the top court had observed that if an area falls under eco sensitive zone then neither the Centre nor the state government will have the right to mine it.

Jharkhand had sought postponing of e-auction of coal block for commercial mining in the state till its suit under Article 131 is decided by the top court.

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