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SC panel asks Haryana to clarify mining auction issue

The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee on Friday sought Haryana government’s clarification on the fact that it was holding an auction for the mines of Khori Jamalpur and Sirohi when the apex court had asked for status quo to be maintained. The committee was forwarding a complaint it had received from an NGO citing the SC order and appealing to the district administration to deploy a special team for ensuring that the court order is complied with.

On February 13, the Supreme Court had in a brief order said: “List the Aravali Hills and Haryana Mining matters on board today on 18.3.2009 and 19.3.2009 (whole day) and 20.03.2009 at 2 pm (if necessary). Status quo as on today shall be maintained till then.'’

Just four days later, on February 17, the state government issued the auction notice for 109.77 hectares of land at Khori Jamalpur and Sirohi where, according to official estimates, about 2 lakh metric tonnes of stones is likely to be mined over the next two years.

CEC sources said, following the letter by NGO Shakti Vahini, the government has been asked how it can hold the auction when it would violate the SC order.

While Haryana’s director (mining and geology), Arun Kumar, was not available for comment, senior officials of the department denied receiving any communication from the CEC.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an official said: “The Khori and Sirohi mines are not part of the Haryana mining matters in the court. This relates to the other mines in the area which have already been closed down. But Khori and Sirohi mines were functioning by the orders of the Supreme Court and therefore there is no problem with the auction. At least that is what the state counsel has told us. That is why we are doing the auction.'’ On being told that Khori and Sirohi were not functioning when the order was given, he said that did not matter.

Legal experts, however, point out that the government may be treading on dangerous ground. “It’s very simple. The mining lease got over on February 5 and they stopped functioning. So on February 13, when the order was passed, they were closed and as per the `status quo’ order, they have to stay closed,'’ a senior lawyer said.

Sources point out that in the event of the auction happening on March 3 and the lease being awarded, the Haryana government could even be charged with contempt of court. But till the awarding actually happens, the state is “theoretically safe as it may argue that is only holding an auction and had no intention of awarding the contract before the court hearing'’. Interestingly, the auction process is for awarding a mining contract till March 31, 2011, though state mining officials admit that Sirohi is unlikely to be able to take mining for more than “three months at the most'’.

Meanwhile, Haryana’s conservator of forests (south circle), R P Balwan, was transferred on Friday. Balwan was a member of the committee formed under the chairmanship of the DG Forest Survey of India which, under the aegis of the CEC, is preparing maps of the Aravali.




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