The Assam government has extended the term of the judicial commission to probe illegal coal mining by three months.
The commission’s request to the forest department for satellite imagery of the affected area is still pending, according to officials.
In July 2020, amid an uproar over allegations of illegal coal mining in precious bio-diversity hotspots of Dehing Patkai forest in Upper Assam and at least three public interest litigations at the Gauhati High Court, the state government appointed a one-man commission of Justice BP Katakey to investigate the claims. The commission was meant to complete its work within six months with the deadline ending on January 17, 2021.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the developments, the government passed an order on February 20, extending the term till April 16, 2021.
Sources told EastMojo that the commission had apprised the government of how several departments had not responded to queries raised by the probe body. Sources told EastMojo that the probe panel wrote to the office of the principal chief conservator of forest, the principal secretary of the environment and forest department, the office of the principal secretary of the mining and geology department and the state’s police seeking information about happenings between 2003 and 2019.
According to sources, to ascertain damage to the Saleki proposed reserve forest, Tikok Open Cast Project area, Dehing Patkai forest and the surrounding area, the commission wrote to the state’s forest department seeking a timeline of satellite imagery between 2003 and 2019. The forest department is yet to respond to the request. The department has also not replied to a query seeking information about disciplinary proceedings against officials during the same period, sources said.
Amit Sahay, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) told EastMojo that the department has responded to all queries raised by the commission except the request for satellite imagery. Sahay said the department has written to North Eastern Space Application Centre (NESAC) in Meghalaya to provide the satellite images since the forest department is not competent to do it.
Sources said the commission received some information from other departments after the January 17 deadline. Among other things, it had asked the Director-General of Police, first in October 2020, to provide information on the number of cases registered between 2003 and 2020 in connection with illegal mining and transportation of coal.
Sources told EastMojo that the information that there are only over 500 cases across the state in connection with illegal mining and transportation of coal was provided after the January 17 deadline.