The Supreme Court Monday said it would hear next week a plea filed by the Jharkhand government challenging the Centre's decision for virtual auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said the plea would be heard along with a separate original suit filed by Jharkhand government which has questioned the Centre's decision to auction coal blocks situated in the state for commercial mining alleging that the announcement was made "unilaterally" without its consultation.
The original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution provides for state to move directly to the Supreme Court in matters of dispute with the Centre.
As soon as the matter came up for hearing through video-conferencing before the apex court, the counsel appearing for Jharkhand told the bench that the state has also filed a suit on the issue and both the matters should be heard together.
"Let the matter be adjourned for one week. In view of the letter circulated by Advocate-on-Record for the petitioner, let the instant writ petition be tagged," the bench, also comprising Justices RS Reddy and AS Bopanna, said in its order.
Soon after the state had filed a plea in the apex court challenging the Centre's action for virtual auction process of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led government also separately filed an original suit.
In its suit, the state has claimed that it is "highly inappropriate" for the Centre to conduct auction at this time of COVID-19 pandemic as all the machinery of the state and the Centre are to be enjoined to "alleviate the problems of citizen" caused due to the deadly virus.
It claimed that the suit has been filed to "assail the unilateral, highhanded, arbitrary and illegal action" of the Centre in launching the auction of commercial coal mining for nine coal blocks situated within the territory of Jharkhand.
"The defendant (Centre) has announced the impugned auction unilaterally without consultation with the plaintiff (Jharkhand). The plaintiff state is the owner of the mines and minerals situated within the territory of the plaintiff," said the suit.
"The meetings of February 2020 are meaningless as they do not take into account the materially changed circumstance arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Renewed consultation with the plaintiff state was indeed required due to COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the nation and the entire globe to a standstill, in a manner never seen before," it said.
Referring to the purported meetings or consultations held on February 5 and February 23, the suit has claimed that the Centre did not consider the objections raised by the state.
Referring to the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which deals with administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes, it said that six of the nine coal blocks in Jharkhand -- Chakla, Chitarpur, North Dhadu, Rajhara North, Seregarha and Urma Paharitola -- which have been put up for auction fall within the Schedule Fifth areas.
It said out of the total population of 3,29,88,134 in Jharkhand, a total of 1,60,10,448 resides in the Schedule Areas.
"The impugned action impinges the rights of the indigenous people of the plaintiff state and will lead to large scale displacement and consequential rehabilitation and re-settlement issues," it said.
It alleged that the Centre's action is in violation of the environmental norms and will "cause irreparable damage" to the environment, forests and land area of the state.
"The present situation, thus, is not conducive for conducting the auction which is bound to get affected by the falling growth rate and weak economic conditions," it said, adding that the Centre's action of commencing tendering process from June 18 onwards without "proper consultation, coordination" with the state is "unjustified".