The Madras High Court on Thursday permitted the State government to go ahead and confirm in favour of the highest bidders the recent auctioning of various government lands in Dharmapuri district for mining black granite.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and R. Hemalatha also permitted the government to ask the highest bidders to submit mining plans, get them approved and then obtain environment clearance too in accordance with existing rules.
The permission was granted at the request of Advocate General Vijay Narayan who said the State government would end up losing hundreds of crores of rupees in foreign exchange and also employment opportunities for many if the auctions were stalled.
The A-G urged the court to modify an interim order passed by another Division Bench on September 30 restraining the government from confirming the auction. He said only if the auctions were confirmed the consequent process of environment clearance could be taken up.
The interim order was passed on a couple of public interest litigation petitions which insisted that environmental clearance must be obtained even before deciding to auction the lands. They also relied upon central government guidelines to substantiate their case.
However, Mr. Narayan told the court that the guidelines cited by the petitioners were related to ease of doing business and had nothing to do with environment. He said the onus of obtaining environmental clearance was upon the successful bidders now as per existing rules.
The Centre wanted a change in such a procedure and go for a pre-embedded clearance where lands could be leased out to the miners after obtaining all statutory clearances. This guideline of the Centre had absolutely nothing to do with environment, he said.
Pointing out that one of the two PIL petitioners, who had challenged the tender notifications, was former Member of Parliament R. Thamaraiselvan, the A-G said: “It is a bit unfair on the part of the former MP to make it an environment issue.”
After hearing him at length, the Bench led by Justice Sathyanarayanan modified the interim order passed by the previous bench and permitted the government to go ahead with all other process except for executing the lease deeds and handing over the lands to the lessors.
They also said that the PILs would be taken up for final hearing on November 3. The senior judge in the Bench said sustainable development should be the mantra in the country where both development as well as environment protection must happen together.
“We are not an agrarian economy like New Zealand. We have several mouths to feed,” the judge told the counsel for the petitioners.