Union of India Ors.
Original Application No. 73/2012
Union of India Ors.
Original Application No. 73/2012
Judicial and Expert Members: Mr. Justice Swatanter Kumar, Mr. U.D. Salvi, Dr. D.K. Agrawal, Mr. A.R. Yousuf, Dr. R. C. Trivedi
Keywords: Chattisgarh, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, Forest Advisory Committee, Mining, Biodiversity, Elephants, Parsa East, Coal Blocks
Application Allowed and disposed of
Dated: 24 March 2014
Facts leading to the present appeal are as under:
Tara, Parsa, and PEKB Coal Blocks are part of Hasdeo-Arand Coal Fields of Chhattisgarh, which fall in South Sarguja Forest Division. PEKB Coal Blocks ad measure 2388.525 hectares. Initially, the proposal dated 12th January, 2009 for diversion of 1898.328 hectares of forest land in PEKB Coal Blocks was forwarded by the State Government- the Respondent no. 1(State of Chhattisgarh) to MoEF- Respondent no.2 on 20th April, 2010. The Respondent no.3- Project Proponent, on its own submitted a revised proposal regarding sequential mining of coal in two phases on 02nd March, 2011. Such revised proposal was the subject matter for deliberations before FAC on 10th March 2011. The FAC appointed a sub-Committee to inspect, enquire into and to submit its report giving its findings in relation to Tara, Parsa and PEKB Coal Blocks. This sub-committee inspected some locations situated within the above coal blocks on 14th and 15th May 2011 and submitted its observations/findings before the FAC. In its meeting convened on June 20th and 21st, 2011, the FAC considered the sub-Committee’s observations/findings and took decision not to recommend the diversion of proposed forest area. In the said meeting, the FAC also dealt with the proposals for diversion of forestland falling in neighbouring coalfields, namely, Tara. On 22nd June, 2011 the final recommendations of the FAC rejecting the proposals for opening of Tara and PEKB Coal Blocks for mining were placed before the Minister of State, Environment and Forest. The Minister preferred to disagree with the final recommendations of FAC, rejecting the proposal and decided to give stage-I approval in respect of the said proposals for forest clearance on 23rd June 2011.
Tribunal observed that Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) did not examine all the relevant facts and circumstances while rendering its advice and to cap it the Minister acted arbitrarily and rejected the FACs advice for the reasons having no basis in any authoritative study or experience in the relevant fields. In short, the reasons adduced by the Minister fail to outweigh the advice rendered by the FAC. This calls for quashing of the Minister’s order dated 23 June 2011 rejecting the FACs advice and consequential order dated 28th March, 2012 passed by the Respondent no. 1 in order to have holistic reappraisal of the entire issue. It is therefore, just and necessary to remand back the entire case to the Minister with appropriate directions to get a fresh advice from the FAC on the material issues in the present case and to reconsider the entire matter afresh in accordance with law.
Hence, the order:
1. Order dated 23rd June, 2011 passed by the Respondent no. 2 and consequential order dated 28th March, 2012 passed by the Respondent no. 1 under section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 for diversion of forest land of PEKB Coal Blocks are set-aside;
2. The case is remanded to the MoEF with directions to seek fresh advice of the FAC within reasonable time on all aspects of the proposal discussed herein above with emphasis on seeking answers to the following questions:
(i) What type of flora and fauna in terms of bio-diversity and forest cover existed as on the date of the proposal in PEKB Coal Blocks in question.
(ii) Is/was the PEKB Coal Blocks habitat to endemic or endangered species of flora and fauna.
(iii) Whether the migratory route/corridor of any wild animal particularly, elephant passes through the area in question and, if yes, its need.
(iv) Whether the area of PEKB Block has that significant conservation/protection value so much, so that the area cannot be compromised for coal mining with appropriate conservation/management strategies.
(v) What is their opinion about opening the PEKB Coal Blocks for mining as per the sequential mining and reclamation method proposed as well as the efficacy of the translocation of the tree vis-a-vis the gestation period for regeneration of the flora?
(vi) What is their opinion about the Wildlife Management plan finally prescribed.
(vii) What conditions and restriction do they propose on the mining in question, if they favour such mining?
Liberty is granted to the FAC to seek advice/opinion/specialised knowledge from any authoritative source such as Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education Dehradun or Wildlife Institute of India including the sources indicated in the present case by the parties.
The MoEF shall pass a reasoned order in light of the advice given by the FAC in accordance with law and pass appropriate order in accordance with law.
All work commenced by the Respondent no. 3 and Respondent no. 4 pursuant to the order dated 28th March, 2012 passed by the Respondent no. 1 State of Chhattisgarh under section 2 of the FC Act 1980, except the work of conservation of existing flora and fauna, shall stand suspended till such further orders are passed by the MoEF in accordance with law.
No order as to costs