PIL filed at Gauhati HC against coal mining in Dehing Patkai

Guwahati: A public interest litigation has been filed at the Gauhati High Court against the Centre’s preliminary approval to Coal India for mining inside Dehing Patkai forest, stating that it violates right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The PIL was filed by Mrinmoy Khataniar and Amar Jyoti Deka on May 26, but it is yet to be listed for hearing, the E-Courts services of the Gauhati High Court said.

The petitioners have made nine respondents in the case — Government of India, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Assam government, the chief secretary, the principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force, and the principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife).

The National Board of Wildlife, the State Board of Wildlife, Coal India and its chief general manager have also been made parties in the case.

The petition highlighted that the Dehing Patkai rainforest has a significant cultural and ecological importance in the lives of the people of Assam, and it is home to several rare and endangered species of plants, animals, birds, insects and other biodiversity.

It pointed out that a large number of Asiatic elephants also live there, which houses a number of corridors for the mammals in and around the Saleki proposed reserve forest, the area where “illegal mining by Coal India was going on for 16 years since 2003”.

Highlighting that several ethnic tribes also reside in the region, the PIL asserted that “uncontrolled and rampant mining” has not only damaged the natural resources, but at the same time also led to unimaginable air and water pollution, thereby threatening public health at large.

The petition stated that “illegal mining carried out by CIL” is a violation of the right to life of the citizens guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

It also stressed that the Stage-I clearance by the Centre for 57.2 hectares out of 98.59 hectares was given on the basis of “wrong information” provided by CIL and so the company should not have been awarded any approval at all.

The minig major was carrying out activities in another 16 hectares without any approval, leaving only about 25 hectares as an unbroken area, it said.

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across 111.42 sq km, while the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve with 937 sq km of area surrounds the sanctuary in its periphery across Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.

Earlier this month, North Eastern Coalfields, a subsidiary of CIL, had accepted that mining was being carried out since 2003 and claimed it applied for renewal of lease in 2003, but the Assam government did not act upon this for a long time.

The Centre gave the Stage-I clearance to the PSU major for 57.20 hectares in December 2019 with 28 conditions, including fines and action against responsible officers violating the Forest Conservation Act.

Accordingly, the Assam Forest Department last month slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on the state-run mining behemoth for illegal mining activity inside the forest, which is termed as the ‘Amazon of East’, for 16 years since 2003.

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