New Delhi, Nov 4 (IANS) Hearing the Jharkhand government’s original suit against the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks in the state, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it wants to ensure that that forests are not destroyed due to mining, as “no economic value” is placed on them.
Chief Justice S.A. Bobde emphasised that the court’s only concern is that natural resources should not be depleted forever.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice noted it is thinking of setting up of an expert committee to assess the impact of mining in coal blocks near eco-sensitive regions in the state.
The Chief Justice told the counsel of the state government and Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre: “You don’t put an economic value on forests. You put it on timber. We don’t want to stop the development of country in any way, but, forest is a natural wealth, which cannot be eroded either.”
The bench, which also comprises Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, orally observed that the court might stay the auction process of coal blocks slated in November for a month till the expert committee submits a report in the matter.
Venugopal strongly objected to this point of view, submitting that the eco-sensitive zone is more than 20 km away from the mines, and “the development of this country will be seriously affected”, if there were to be any stay on the mining.
At this, the Chief Justice asked: “Is 20 km not dangerously close to the eco-sensitive zones?”
As the AG replied that if this rule is applied in Goa, then, there will be no mining there, the Chief Justice said: “We just want an expert committee to call it safe.”
The AG stressed that it will affect the efforts of the Centre to rebuild the economy, and sought the court’s permission to submit certain materials addressing the environmental concerns.
The bench observed that it is contemplating directions against mining in any part of the country if it falls within a radius of 50 km of eco-sensitive zones.
Venugopal, however, opposed it saying this will impact development and industrialisation, and cited that the top court has already passed judgments on this aspect.
Jharkhand has filed an original suit under the Constitution’s Article 131 challenging the Centre’s decision to auction coal blocks in the state for commercial mining.
Senior advocate Fali S. Nariman, representing the Jharkhand government, submitted that a Centre-state dispute under Article 131 required urgent consideration.
The bench replied it will frame issues in the matter.
The AG, however, cited the Jharkhand government letter wherein it did not raise any objection to the Centre’s decision, and also, that no environmental concerns were raised. He added that the state had sought postponement of the auction process, as the global investment climate amid the pandemic was not favourable, to maximise revenue.
The AG also termed Jharkhand’s case “subterfuge”, as now the state government is raising environmental concerns, which it never did earlier.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Jharkhand, sought stay on the auction process till the expert committee submits its report and cited that elephant corridor and the habitat of other animals is within 17 km-20 km of all mining sites in the state.
“If the private allottees are allowed to uproot forests, irreversible damage will happen,” he submitted.
To this, the Chief Justice said: “We want to satisfy our conscience on environment.”
As the AG asked what would happen to mines in other states, the Chief Justice said: “If facts are brought to our notice, we will stop that too. We want to ensure forests are not destroyed due to mining.”
The bench has deferred the hearing in the case till Friday.