Guwahati: A two-member division bench of the Gauhati high court (HC) on Thursday issued notices to the Centre, Assam government and others while taking up a suo motu case (on its own motion) against a proposed move to allow coal mining in Assam’s Dehing Patkai rainforest.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia, informed the court that it has taken up the matter suo motu while hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) on the same issue.
“So far, three PILs have challenged the recent approval granted by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) allowing opencast coal and underground coal mining in a section of the Dehing Patkai forest,” said advocate Santanu Borthakur, one of the petitioners.
The court issued notices to the Centre, Assam government, Coal India Limited (CIL), NBWL, mines and mineral department of Assam, state home department, Assam Police and others and fixed July 20 as the next date of hearing of the case. All the respondents have been asked to file affidavits by July 14.
“All the PILs wanted a ban on coal mining in the forest. But our plea specifically sought a declaration of the entire rainforest as a heritage site as per provision of Section 37 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002,” said Borthakur.
Spread across 937 square kilometres, Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve falls in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts in Upper Assam and is located within the periphery of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, which is said to be the largest lowland tropical rainforest in the country.
On April 17, National Board of Wild Life (NBWL), under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), had recommended coal mining to be allowed in a portion of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve if it fulfils 28 pre-conditions.
NBWL allowed CIL to conduct opencast coal mining in 98.59 hectares of the reserve forest. The state-run CIL has been carrying out mining in 57 hectares of the reserve and the fresh recommendation allowed it to do mining in another 41 hectares.
Besides elephants, leopards, hoolock gibbons, pangolins and bears, Dehing Patkai is also home to over 200 species of birds, various replies, and many species of butterflies and orchids. The habitats of these species, and the foraging routes of elephants, are likely to be affected by indiscriminate coal mining activities.
The NBWL approval has led to widespread opposition in Assam against the proposed coal mining move.
State forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya also visited the site recently and assured the people that there would be no compromise on protecting Assam’s forests and rich biodiversity.