NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday caught the
government's doublespeak in challenging the Centre's decision to auction 41 coal blocks, nine of which are in the state, for commercial exploitation but sought an affidavit from the Centre whether the
were located in eco-sensitive zones.
Jharkhand first filed a writ petition challenging the Centre's decision to auction coal mines and followed it up with a suit under Article 131 of the Constitution making it a Centre-state dispute. In the writ petition it had questioned the timing of the auction saying the scarce natural resources would not fetch proper price because of 'negative global investment climate' during the pandemic. However, in the suit, it additionally said that coal mining would ravage the eco-sensitive zones and displace thousands of tribals from their land protected under the Constitution.
When senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Jharkhand, said that seven of the nine coal blocks up for auction fell either within the wildlife sanctuaries or were in close proximity, a bench of CJI S A Bobde, and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian appeared inclined towards a proper assessment of coal mine locations to determine whether they fell in eco-sensitive zones.
But, attorney general K K Venugopal said the Jharkhand government which is crying hoarse on coal mines falling in the eco-sensitive zone was itself seeking to maximise the returns from these coal mines in its writ petition. The AG said 15 days before filing the suit, the Jharkhand government in its writ petition was seeking postponement of the auction by 6-8 months to await improvement in global investment climate to increase revenue from the coal mines.
Singhvi quickly sought to withdraw the writ petition. The bench refused and said, "Your (Jharkhand government's) prayer in the writ petition is abominable. How can you make such a prayer? Look at your intention. The intention of your officers about this land is quite evident - maximise revenue from the area. We might have to protect this area from you."
However, protection of environment and eco-sensitive areas remained paramount in the mind of the court. The bench said, "There is a great desire to extract minerals and make natural resources a money making machine. If it is going to degrade the environment, we will not permit it." When AG said none of the nine mines in Jharkhand fell in eco-sensitive zone, the SC asked the Centre to file an affidavit to this effect giving details of location of the mines.
In its suit, the
government had said of the nine coal blocks of the state among the 41 selected for auction, six - Chakla, Chitarpur, North Dhadu, Rajhara North, Seregarha and Urma Pahartola - fell in the Schedule V area governed by Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949, which prohibits transfer of land from a tribal to anyone else to protect their culture and customs.
Mining in the tribal and forest areas would cause irreparable damage to forests leading to loss of invaluable carbon sink, it said and warned that indiscriminate commercial exploitation would lead to large-scale displacement of tribals raising the complex and contentious issues relating to their rehabilitation and resettlement.
The Centre's decision to start the process for auctioning 41 coal blocks for commercial mining is open for domestic as well as global firms under the 100 per cent FDI (
foreign direct investment
) route and is aimed at making India self-reliant in the energy sector.
"Commercial mining of these coal blocks is expected to generate approximately Rs 33,000 crore of capital investment in the country over the next five to seven years. These blocks will contribute Rs 20,000 crore revenues annually to the state governments," the coal ministry had said.