The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on Jharkhand government’s pleas challenging its decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices R Subhash Reddy and A S Bopanna gave the Centre four weeks to reply to the writ petition and an original suit filed by the Jharkhand government questioning the decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining.
The State government has alleged that the announcement was made by the Centre “unilaterally” without consulting it.
During the hearing, the bench told senior advocates Fali S Nariman and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Jharkhand government, that it is inclined to issue notice in this matter and hear it on injunction, listing it as early as possible.
Advocate Nariman said it would be appropriate if the matter is listed before August 18, as the bids will take place then.
The Chief Justice then said that there will be no problem, as the dates can be extended and the Attorney General will look into it.
On July 6, the top court had said it would hear this week the plea challenging the Centre’s decision for virtual auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining.
It had also said the plea would be heard along with the original suit filed by the state questioning the Centre’s coal block auction decision alleging that the announcement was made “unilaterally“.
The original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution provides for state to move directly to the Supreme Court in matters of dispute with the Centre.
Counsel appearing for Jharkhand has informed the top court that the state has also filed a suit on the issue and both the matters should be heard together.
Soon after the state had filed the plea challenging the virtual auction process for 41 coal blocks, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led Hemant Soren government also separately filed an original suit.
In its suit, the state has claimed that it is “highly inappropriate” for the Centre to conduct auction at this time of COVID-19 pandemic as all the machinery of the state and the Centre are to be enjoined to “alleviate the problems of citizen” caused due to the deadly virus. It claimed that the suit has been filed to “assail the unilateral, highhanded, arbitrary and illegal action” of the Centre in launching the auction of commercial coal mining for nine coal blocks situated within the territory of Jharkhand.
“The defendant (Centre) has announced the impugned auction unilaterally without consultation with the plaintiff (Jharkhand). The plaintiff state is the owner of the mines and minerals situated within the territory of the plaintiff,” said the suit.
“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,” it said.
Referring to the purported meetings or consultations held on February 5 and February 23, the suit has claimed that the Centre did not consider the objections raised by the state.
Referring to the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which deals with administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes, it said that six of the nine coal blocks in Jharkhand — Chakla, Chitarpur, North Dhadu, Rajhara North, Seregarha and Urma Paharitola — which have been put up for auction fall within the Schedule Fifth areas.
It said out of the total population of 3,29,88,134 in Jharkhand, a total of 1,60,10,448 resides in the Schedule Areas.
“The impugned action impinges the rights of the indigenous people of the plaintiff state and will lead to large scale displacement and consequential rehabilitation and re-settlement issues,” it said.
It alleged that the Centre’s action is in violation of the environmental norms and will “cause irreparable damage” to the environment, forests and land area of the state.
“The present situation, thus, is not conducive for conducting the auction which is bound to get affected by the falling growth rate and weak economic conditions,” it said, adding that the Centre’s action of commencing tendering process from June 18 onwards without “proper consultation, coordination” with the state is “unjustified”.