The supreme court on Tuesday issued notice to the Central government on a plea challenging the Centre’s decision to auction 41 coal blocks for commercial mining.
The plea was filed by the Jharkhand government, as 9 of the 41 coal blocks to be auctioned are located in that state. Jharkhand alleged that coal mining would destroy its forests, and its tribal culture and customs. Further, it said the auction would also not fetch an adequate price.
Senior Advocate Fali Nariman represented Jharkhand government and prayed for an early listing of the case, while apprising the bench that bidding for the blocks is to take place on 18 August.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, said: “We are inclined to issue notice in this matter and hear it on injunction and list it as early as possible.”
The bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna, assured Nariman that the auction date can be extended and asked Attorney General KK Venogopal, appearing for the Centre, to look into it.
The case will be heard next in four weeks.
The Jharkhand government in its plea has alleged that Centre “unilaterally” made the announcements, without consulting it. The plea also states that it is “highly inappropriate” for the Centre to conduct an auction at a time when the country is fighting the covid-19 pandemic and the machinery of the state and the Centre is working to “alleviate the problems of citizens” caused by the deadly virus.
It claimed that the plea has been filed to “assail the unilateral, high-handed, arbitrary and illegal action” of the Centre in launching the auction of commercial coal mining for nine coal blocks situated within the territory of Jharkhand.
“The impugned action impinges the rights of indigenous people of the plaintiff state and will lead to large-scale displacement and consequential rehabilitation and resettlement issues,” the plea said.
The petition was filed through advocate Tapesh Kumar Singh and claims that the auctions during the ongoing pandemic would not fetch legitimate market price for the state. The plea also alleges that Centre’s actions shall “cause irreparable damage” to the forests and land, and that it was in violation of environmental norms.
India on 18 June fully opened commercial coal mining to the private sector through auctions designed to boost production, reduce imports and raise state revenues. The auction of 41 coal blocks, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is expected to attract Rs33,000 crore in investments, with private miners sharing revenues with the government. There will be no restriction on the sale and utilization of coal from these mines. Earlier, blocks were awarded on a fixed payment per tonne basis which the government believed was impeding production.
PTI contributed to the story.