SC admits Purohit PIL on coal blocks allotment

Can the Centre override provisions of Coal-Bearing Areas Act and allot virgin coal blocks to private companies?

The law point has been raised before Supreme Court (SC) in a PIL by former MP and senior BJP leader Banwarilal Purohit.

He has questioned legality of allotments made after 1993 on the basis of amendments to Coal Mines Nationalisation Act and sought cancellations and action against the guilty.

His petition claimed coal blocks allotted to private players post the 1993 amendment had to be cancelled since the process by the Centre, acquisition of coal-bearing areas using Land Acquisition Act and grant of lease for mining purposes by the state government were legally impermissible and patently illegal.

A division bench of Justices R M Lodha and A R Dave admitted the PIL Monday and issued a notice to the Centre. SC clubbed it with other pleas concerning coal block allotments.

"The only leeway provided by the Act is grant of sub-lease under section 3(3)(c) if the government, its fully owned company or corporation is satisfied that the reserves of coal in the area are not sufficient for scientific and economical development in a coordinated and integrated manner," Purohit said in the PIL.

He told a press conference Tuesday the petition raised a legal issue over which there was no judicial pronouncement so far.

SC had already admitted some PILs challenging coal block allotments without auction and in arbitrary manner, but the instant petition questioned all allotments to private players ignoring the self-explanatory legal provision of Coal Bearing Areas Act, 1957, which is a special statute for coal area acquisition and allotment of blocks with a specific rider that it can be granted to only government-owned companies, Purohit said.

Coal-Bearing Areas Act forbade participation of private sector in "unworked land containing or likely to contain coal deposits" and yet such lands had been allocated to private parties, he said.

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