Mahim Pratap Singh

Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh High Court has stayed further “exploitation” of mining leases in forest areas by private companies in the Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh.

The order, passed by a High Court bench comprising acting Chief Justice R. S. Garg and Justice Sanjay Yadav on a writ petition filed by a NGO, states that “the Central government shall not proceed with nor shall it process the recommendations…the private respondents who are beneficiaries under annexure P.2, shall not exploit the license/lease.”

The petition challenged theconstitutionality ofthe Statemining department’s notification authorising the department to process applications and pass orders under Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 for grant of mineral concessions like mining leases, prospecting license for prospecting operations, etc , without prior mandatory compliance of Section 2 of Forest Conservation Act, 1957.

Through such orders, the State government not only allotted the area to the company concerned without any clearance, but also by-passed the responsibility of seeking environmental clearance from the MoEF.

In this context, the petitioner challenged the grant of mining leases over an approximate area of 2,300 acres in Balaghat district over a reserved forest area and a national park for mining manganese ore to over 12 private companies.

Counsel for the petitioner S. R. Gupta contended that Section 2 of the Act required that the State government acquired prior clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests before passing any orders relating to commencement of non-forest activity in a forest area.

However, the State government had been granting ‘principle consent’to private companies for exploiting forest area through mining activities without any such clearances.

The counsel also contended that under Section 2(iii) ofthe Act , the State government was bound to seek prior statutory clearances from the Central Government (MoEF)before leasing out any forest area to private companies.

The High Court order could affect mining leases granted for an approximate area of 48,000 hectares in forests across the State.