New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal has left it to the Gauhati High Court to decide aplea challenging approval to mining in Tikak Open Cast Project under Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest in Assam”s Digboi town. A bench comprising Justice S P Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nanda noted that PILs were pendingbefore the Gauhati High Court in which the issues raised in the present application were also the subject matter under consideration in those cases.
It also noted that a One Man Enquiry Commission had been constituted by the Assam government for enquiry into the alleged illegal mining activities being carried out in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest by Coal India Ltd. and its subsidiaries i.e. North Eastern Coalfields. AdvocateNalin Kohli, appearing for Assam, told the bench that in view of the facts and circumstances, continuance of the present proceedings instituted later in the point of time would, therefore, amount to parallel proceedings being held on the same subject matter before two different forums.
Upon perusal of the records and the 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 said.
The NGT disposed of the petition filed by environment activists Pradip Bhuyan and Joydeep Bhuyan challenging the recent approval by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife(NBWL), granted to the proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of Reserve Forest land from Saleki Proposed reserve Forest. The petition contended the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife, in its 57th Meeting dated April 7, 2020, without any legal or factual considerations, recommended the proposal, to regularise the violations under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, viz the illegally broken up area, for which it has no powers under the existing law.
The State (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, the plea said. The petition said the recommendation of NBWL fails to consider that all statutory processes note that there is illegal mining and recommended action to be taken, yet grants it clearance and permits it to proceed to the next stage while blatantly ignoring the illegal mining activity.
It contended that the decision also violates the Environment Protection Act, 1986 as the concept of Ecologically Sensitive Zones/Ecologically Sensitive Areas is covered within the said Act. It has sought directions to set aside 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.
The petition has also sought to ensure that no mining is allowed in Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve and direction to Assam government to submit action taken report pertaining to the penalties imposed on North-Eastern Coalfield for its illegal mining activities. The Assam forest department had earlier slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on PSU major Coal India Ltd for carrying out “illegal mining” inside the reserve forest for 16 years from 2003.
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