The Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday upheld Punjab government’s 2018 mining policy but with a condition that the state would first identify the mining areas before going for the auction. While quashing the e-auction notice issued by the state in August 2018, the court directed that a fresh auction notice after defining the mining areas be issued within a period of three months and the auction process be taken forward.
There had been a stay on the auction of sand mines in the state since December 2018 due to the pendency of the case filed by some contractors against both the policy and the auction notice issued under it. The Court on Tuesday also said till the time the new auction notice is issued, the contractors who had mining contracts earlier be permitted as per the terms of the old policy so as not to “stall the infrastructural projects and the people at large are not inconvenienced”.
The division bench of Justices Mahesh Grover and Lalit Batra in the verdict said, “we uphold the policy of the State in creating blocks and going for open auction through progressive bidding but would observe, only after identifying the mining area and precisely, for this reason, we quash the e-auction notice as being totally vague and in contravention with the law laid down by various courts besides being violative of the guidelines of the MoEF”.
Stating that the e-auction notice only reveals that blocks for mining have been created but there is no specified area of mining, the Court added, “Such a vague description of the mining area is an invitation to ravage. It is difficult to comprehend how a mining contractor would make a bid in an open auction for mines that have not been identified or described by any revenue record or other means”.
Observing that the State is not without the resources or technological means to identify the stretches or quarries available for mining and to pre-determine the quantum of available minerals, the bench further said there would be nothing wrong in creating blocks but “the identity of the mines/quarries stretches existing therein would not only make it functionally viable but would also obviate chances of exploitation of mineral resource”.
“The initial onus of offering an area for mining and its identification rests with the State and it is thereafter the responsibility of the contractor begins to submit a mining plan for obtaining environmental clearances etc,” the court added in the order.
The main ground of challenge against the auction was that there is no identification of the mining sites, due to which it would be difficult to assess the mineral wealth and also no impact assessment study has been carried out to understand the impact with regard to the environment. The State had argued that it within the policy that the mining operations begin only when the contractor has identified mines in the blocks allotted to him, obtained the consent of the landowner, arranged for all infrastructural requirements like a right of way etc. and obtained all clearances.