Assam Environment

Gauhati HC takes up suo moto case against Coal mining in Dehing Patkai, next hearing on July 20

-Avishek Sengupta

The Gauhati High Court after hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) had on Thursday taken up a suo moto case against coal mining in the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Court also served notices to the Coal India, Centre, state, and other stakeholders after hearing the two PILs filed by few advocates and a mountaineer.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia stated that a suo moto PIL has been registered on receiving a letter from a concerned citizen.

The court has fixed July 20 as the next date of hearing for the suo moto case and the other two PILs and issued notices to various central and state government agencies and Coal India Ltd (CIL).

Advocates D K Das and Rakhee S Chowdhury, representing the PIL of lawyer Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka, said that the court has not combined the three PILs yet.

“The state counsel told the court that mining was stopped in 2019. But we argued that CIL mined without permission for 16 years. Besides, mining activity was carried out in 16 hectares more land in addition to the informed 57.2 hectares,” Chowdhury said.

“The chief justice informed us that he has registered a suo moto PIL on the matter. Taking up the three PILs, the bench issued notices to all those concerned from central and state agencies and fixed July 20 as the next date of hearing,” she added.

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Advocate Santanu Borthakur, who filed the other PIL along with colleague Vikram Rajkhowa, said their petition sought to declare Dehing Patkai, known as the ”Amazon of the East”, as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

The three petitions have made various 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, the Coal India Ltd, the Chief General Manager of CIL, the Arunachal Pradesh government, Assam director-general of police, Tinsukia deputy commissioner, superintendent of police and district forest officer, among others, have also been made parties to the case.

The petitions were filed against the Centre”s preliminary approval to Coal India for mining inside Dehing Patkai forest, stating that it violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In its last meeting in April, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended approval of the CIL”s proposal for legalising the illegal mining provided it fulfils the 28 conditions.

The All Assam Students” Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and other civil society groups, besides opposition parties, environmentalists, activists, teachers and students have been protesting on the issue since May, threatening of bigger agitations if coal mining is allowed.

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