The Gauhati High Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre, state, Coal India and other stakeholders after taking up a suo motu case against coal mining in the Dehing Patkai forest, also known as the Amazon of the East.
The bench comprising Chief Justice Ajay Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saiki issued the notices after hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) filed by some advocates and a mountaineer. The court has fixed July 20 as the next date of hearing for the suo motu and the other two PILs.
Advocates D K Das and Rakhee S Chowdhury, representing the PIL of lawyer Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka, said that the court has not combined the three PILs as of now.
"The state counsel told the court that mining was stopped in 2019. But we argued that CIL mined without permission for 16 years. Besides, mining activity was carried out in 16 hectares more land in addition to the informed 57.2 hectares," Ms Chowdhury was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Advocate Santanu Borthakur, who filed the other PIL along with colleague Vikram Rajkhowa, said their petition sought to declare Dehing Patkai as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
The petitions were filed against the Centre's preliminary conditional approval to Coal India for mining inside Dehing Patkai forest, stating that it violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The PILs highlighted that the Dehing Patkai rainforest has a significant cultural and ecological importance in the lives of the people of Assam and it is home to several rare and endangered species of plants, animals, birds, insects and other biodiversities.
In its last meeting in April, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recommended approval of the CIL's proposal for legalising the illegal mining provided it fulfils the 28 conditions.
The All Assam Students'' Union (AASU), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and other civil society groups, besides opposition parties, environmentalists, activists, teachers and students have been protesting on the issue since May, threatening of bigger agitations if coal mining is allowed.