GUWAHATI, July 19 - The one-man judicial commission constituted by the State government to probe media reports of rampant illegal coal mining in the Dehing Patkai rainforest belt, including both the elephant reserve and the wildlife sanctuary, has been given a wide mandate for unearthing the deep-rooted nexus behind the illegalities.
The probe headed by Justice (retd) BP Katakey will encompass a wide range of issues that have apparently been brushed under the carpet by various government authorities, including the forest and police departments. The commission will submit its report within six months from the date of issuance of the notification.
Official sources told The Assam Tribune that the probe had been mandated to look into the alleged illegal coal mining activities in four reserve forests (RFs) and proposed reserve forests (PRFs) � Saleki PRF of Digboi Division, Tipong PRF, Jeypore RF of Dibrugarh Division, and Dilli RF of Sibsagar Division � including in the Tikok Open Cast Project (OCP) area by Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries, besides by some unscrupulous individuals.
�In addition, allegations of large-scale illegal opencast mining by the mafia at other forests such as Namphai, Tinkopani, Lekhapani, etc., under Digboi Division will also be covered by the inquiry. Assessing the adverse environmental impact on the flora and fauna of these forests will be another aspect of the probe,� sources added.
The commission has also been tasked with looking into the allegations of violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Assam Forest Regulation, 1891, and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the process of coal mining activities carried out by Coal India Limited and its subsidiaries in Saleki and other areas.
Sources said the rampant violations of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 and the Rules framed there under, regulating mining lease, period of lease, collection of different royalties, preservation of area for conservation, penalty and recovery for unauthorised mining, restoration and rehabilitation of mined area, prevention of illegal mining, transportation and storage by any corporation, organisation or individual during the last 20 years would also come under the ambit of the investigation.
�The commission will inquire into and fix responsibility upon government officials of any department found involved in commission of any illegal mining or any other illegal activity in commission or abetment of the aforesaid forest area. Aside identifying organisations and individuals responsible for undertaking such illegal mining activities, it will further probe the manner of processing of any application by any organisation or individual for grant of mining lease in the aforesaid forest areas during the period from 2003 onwards, and also to inquire whether grant of any mining lease during the period was in compliance of or in conformity with the provisions of applicable laws,� sources said.
Another aspect concerns suggestion of measures for recovery of loss caused due to unlawful coal mining activity under the jurisdiction of Digboi Forest Division, either in the form of rent, royalty, penalty, land arrears or tax in terms of Section 21(5) of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 or under any other law in force during commission of offence.
It will also suggest measures to be taken for restoration, rehabilitation and reclamation of areas damaged due to illegal coal mining and ancillary activities, and assess the approximate amount of costs to be incurred for such purpose.
The probe will inquire into any other prohibited or regulated activities inside all the forests (RF/PRF) and wildlife sanctuary under Digboi Forest Division and suggest remedial measures for checking such activities.