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Jharkhand Coal Block Auction: SC seeks centre’s response the plea

Jharkhand Coal Block Auction: SC seeks centre's response the plea

The Supreme Court yesterday issued lotus a notice to the centre on the plea filed by the Jharkhand government challenging the decision of of coal blocks auction to private miners for commercial mining. The supreme court has given 4 weeks time to the Centre for the reply to the Writ petition and original petition filed by the State Government. The three-judged bench comprised of Justice S A Bobde, Justice R Subhash Reddy and A S Bhopanna.

Article 131 enables a state to move directly to Supreme Court in cases involving disputes with the Centre. Jharkhand Government moved the Supreme Court, first by filing a writ petition and then by filing a suit under Article 131, invoking the Original Jurisdiction of the apex court.

The Jharkhand Government had approached to the apex court challenging the decision of Centre with the contentions that the virtual auction of coal blocks will not benefit the state amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed to combat it. The state also alleged that the announcement was made by the Centre “unilaterally” without making any consultation to the State.

The plea stated- “The state is the owner of the mines and minerals situated within the territory of the plaintiff (Jharkhand). The defendant (Centre) has announced the auction unilaterally without consultation with the plaintiff (Jharkhand),”

The state government states that “the meetings of February 2020 are meaningless as they do not take into account the materially changed circumstance arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Renewed consultation with the plaintiff state was indeed required due to Covid-19 pandemic which has brought the nation and the entire globe to a standstill, in a manner never seen before,”

The decision of Centre to auction Coal blocks:

Earlier on June 18,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched virtual the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining for becoming self-reliant in energy by reducing imports. The rollout of commercial mining is part of  planning by the Centre under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’. Also, this would make the tribal population of Eastern and Central India, pillars of development.

The coal blocks are located across Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra. Nine of the 41 coal blocks are in Jharkhand.Jharkhand has a very rich coal reserves making it 26% of the India’s coal deposit with approximately 84 billion tons of coal.

Plea by the Jharkhand Government:

The plea by Jharkhand Government enlist the negative impacts and pressing concerns due to upcoming auction for commercial mining during the current situation. There are some main concerns as mentioned by the state.

Before beginning with any commercial coal mining, the social and environmental impact assessment needs to be made compulsorily. Also, the plea alleges that this action is in violation of the environmental  norms and will “cause irreparable damage” the forest and environment of the state.

There is negative global investment climate because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which would render the auctions unlikely to fetch reasonable returns for the coal mining. The JMM-Cong coalition government cited the decline in coal off-take in June which was 12.8% lower that that in June last year.

The plea red flags and encircles the legal vacuum created since the lapse of the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Act, 1950.

The state government claims statutory and constitutional rights flowing from the Bihar Land Reforms Act, 1950.

Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India deals with administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes and the areas falling under are governed by Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949, which prohibits transfer of land from a tribal to anyone else to protect their culture and customs. Six of the nine coal blocks in Jharkhand — Chakla, Chitarpur, North Dadu, Rajhara North, Seregarha and Urma Paharitola — which have been put up for auction fall within the Schedule Fifth areas.

Out if the total population of 3,29,88,134 in Jharkhand, a total of 1,60,10,448 resides in the Schedule Areas.  Also, the indiscriminate commercial exploitation would lead to large-scale displacement of tribal population of such areas raising another issue of their rehabilitation and resettlement.