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Gauhati High Court takes up suo motu against coal mining in Dehing Patkai

The Gauhati High Court on June 4th, 2020, issued notices to the Central government, state government, Coal India and other stakeholders after taking up a suo motu case against coal mining in the Dehing Patkai rainforest.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saiki issued the notices after hearing three public interest litigations (PILs) filed by some advocates and a mountaineer. The court has fixed July 20th, 2020, as the next date of hearing for the suo motu and the other two PILs.

In this regard, speaking to Inside NE, advocate Santanu Borthakur, who filed the other PIL along with colleague Bikram 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.

Also read: PM Modi selling natural resources: Ajit Bhuyan on Dehing Patkai

Rajkhowa further added their PIL pointed out that the Gauhati High Court is already seized with the issue of illegal coal mining in Tinsukia district and Coal India, state government and others are parties in the suo motu case registered in 2018.

Meanwhile, petitioner advocate Rakhee S Chowdhury said, “The Chief Justice has informed the us that he has registered a suo motu 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.”

On the other hand, lawyer Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka stressed on the wrong information provided by the CIL to the Central government. “The Central government gave the Stage-I clearance for 57.2 hectares out of 98.59 hectares on the basis of the wrong information provided by the Coal India,” the petition stated.

Also read: Assam: In Dehing Patkai, coal mining is a way of life

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.

It may be mentioned that the North Eastern Coalfields, a unit of CIL, in May last had accepted that mining was going on since 2003 and claimed it had applied for renewal of its lease in 2003, but the Assam government did not act upon this for a long time. In May, the Assam Forest department slapped a penalty of Rs 43.25 crore on Coal India for carrying out illegal activities in the rainforest.

Centre’s approval erupts protests

Many organisations including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), environmentalists, students’ fraternity and civilians have been staging protest against the open cast coal mining the region since May saying that it would jeopardise the existential identity of the various rare species. They also argued that it would pose a threat to the fragile ecology of the region.

Also read: Dehing Patkai: NE students start another agitation, but this time on social media

Netizens have also been vocal against the Centre’s approval and carried out a movement on social media platform. People urged the government to save the region and the biodiversity.

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