A still of Tikak open cast mining project after mining was suspended in the colliery since June 3 Credit: EastMojo Image

New Delhi: With the National Green Tribunal (NGT) rejecting the approval for Tikak open cast mining project in the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest in Assam, the onus is now on Gauhati High Court to decide on the plea.

The tribunal bench of Justice SP Wengde and an expert member Nagin Nanda ruled that already the issues mentioned in the current petition falls under the ambit of pleas that are placed at the Gauhati High Court.

It was noted in addition that the Assam government has constituted a one-member commission with retired Justice BP Katakey at the helm. The commission has been assigned to look into the illegal mining activities that are being carried out in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest by the Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries, the North Eastern Coalfields.

The petition was filed by environment activists Pradip Bhuyan and Joydeep Bhuyan contented the recent approval granted by the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) to the proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of land from Saleki proposed reserve forest.

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The petition quoted its reservations against the order of the Standing Committee in its 57th meeting on April 7 this year where it recommended the proposal regularising the violations under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 without any legal or factual considerations.

The petition further censured the recommendations of the NBWL saying that it has failed to appraise all the statutory processes that point towards the practice of illegal mining and how to act against it, and still went on to grant clearances and permissions to proceed to the next stage while overlooking the illegal mining activity.

“The Assam government has not complied with the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee for carrying out the study according to Part-II of Form A, and the user agency continued its mining operations, unabated and unmoved by the directives of the authorities,” stated the petition.

The state forest department had earlier fined PSU major Coal India Ltd a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore for carrying out “illegal mining” inside the reserve forest for 16 years from 2003.

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Legal counsel Nalin Kohli representing the state government of Assam informed the bench that continuing with the present proceedings keeping in mind the the issue of contention and looking at the facts and circumstances, it would converge at a point of time with the hearing in the Gauhati High Court and shall lead to holding parallel proceedings in two different forums.

“Upon perusal of records and documents and, after hearing the counsel for the parties, we are inclined to agree with Kohli and find substance in his submission. Although Sanjay Upadhyay, counsel for the applicant, strongly urges that there ought to be no impediment in the Tribunal continuing with the present case, we are of the considered opinion that it would not be appropriate for the two forums to consider the same subject matter as it may result in conflict of decisions,” the bench directed.

The petition has requested for orders to leave aside the NBWL clearance for the use of 98.59 hectares of reserve forest land from Saleki Proposed Reserve forest for the Tikak open cast mining project and that no mining be allowed in Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve

The petition has solicited the bench to direct the Assam government to file a report on the action taken against the North Eastern Coalfields for its illegal mining activities and about the penalties that were imposed.

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