The Gauhati High Court has observed that it is the obligation of the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) in collaboration with the State Government to ensure that illegal mining activities are not carried out within the State of Assam.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Suman Shyam said, “Be that as it may, undisputedly it is the obligation of MoEF & CC in collaboration with the State Government to ensure that illegal mining activities are not carried out within the State of Assam which is home to the pristine forests which are virtually the lungs of the earth. Thus, we direct that the concerned officials of the Central Government, in collaboration with the responsible officers of the Assam State Government, shall ensure that the mining activities being undertaken by the Coal India Ltd. shall not be allowed unless the conditions mentioned in the aforequoted letter are satisfied.”

The Bench directed that immediate steps shall also be taken to ensure that all illegal mining activities in the area in question are stopped forthwith.

Advocate D.K. Das represented the petitioners, V. Rajkhowa appeared as a petitioner-in-person while AAG P.N. Goswami, Standing Counsel K.P. Pathak, Senior Advocate M.Z. Ahmed, Standing Counsel A.K. Dutta, and DSGI R.K.D. Choudhury represented the respondents.

In this case, a bunch of PILs and associated interlocutory applications were preferred before the Court that involved issues of great importance. One of the petitioners i.e., a practising Advocate of the High Court, had tried to highlight the depleting forest in the Saleki Proposed Reserve Forest under Digboi division and the illegal mining activities being carried out in this area, particularly being attributed to the Coal India Ltd.

The High Court in the above context noted, “Mr. D.K. Das submitted that as the Central Government itself has observed that the user agency, i.e. the Coal India Ltd. is continuing the mining operation even after expiry of the original lease period, it should be restrained from carrying out the mining operation in violation of the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 till all penalties and compensatory levis are deposited and Stage II approval for the project is granted by MoEF & CC.”

The Court also considered the submission made by the DSGI that the Coal India Ltd. has stopped its mining activities in the reserved forest areas and that the mining activities are actually being carried out by other persons or entities.

Accordingly, the Court issued necessary directions to the respondents.

Cause Title- Mrinmoy Khataniar and Anr. v. Union of India and 9 Ors. (Neutral Citation: GAHC010075832020)

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