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Hot-spot coal mining notice

Court converts letter written by a citizen into a PIL, lists matter for hearing on July 20
The entrance of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 04.06.20, 10:34 PM

Gauhati High Court on Thursday issued notices to Coal India Ltd and the Assam government to respond by July 14 on the protection of the Dehing Patkai biodiversity hotspot from alleged illegal mining, after hearing three public interest litigation pleas.

A division bench of Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia took suo motu cognisance of a letter written by a citizen over the threat posed by illegal mining to the hotspot spread over Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, about 500km east of here. The bench converted the letter into a PIL, while hearing a petition filed by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amarjyoti Deka and another by lawyers Vikram Rajkhowa and Santanu Borthakur. The court listed the matter for hearing on July 20.

An online campaign to save the over 1,100sqkm green zone started after National Board for Wildlife gave permission on April 7 for the use of 98.59 hectares of land from the proposed reserve forest at Saleki for mining by North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of CIL.

Khataniar claimed mining continued till 2012 with approval in gross violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “Mining was carried out in 73 hectares out of the 98.59 hectares in Tikak open-cast mine, which falls under the reserve forest, without any approval,” he said.

Following the protests, the state government said there had been no mining since October 2019 and it had imposed a penalty of Rs 48 crore on CIL for mining without approval, Khataniar said.

On May 20, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal directed forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya to visit the site and submit a report at the earliest. The report is yet to be submitted.

NEC has said it is in the process of complying with stipulations and conditions for mining given by NBWL and the ministry of forests, environment and climate change. According to NEC, the wildlife sanctuary is 9.19km from the project site and the nearest elephant corridor more than 10km away.

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