Thursday, February 2, 2023

Meghalaya HC dismisses PIL seeking declaration of provisions of Mines Act ultra-vires

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The Meghalaya High Court recently dismissed a PIL seeking the declaration of Section 10A(2)(b) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 as ultra-vires of the Constitution while observing that the provision is not applicable to the state of Meghalaya.

The division bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjit More and Justice H.S. Thangkhiew having perused the provision of Section 10 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957  coupled with the decision of the Supreme Court in State of Meghalaya (supra), were of the view that Section 10A(2)(b) is not applicable to the State of Meghalaya.

The petitioner has approached the High Court in the interest of the people of Meghalaya and of people affected by the impugned order/notification who are unable to approach the High Court for personal reasons.

Amit Kumar, Advocate General, challenged the maintainability of the PIL in Meghalaya High Court on the ground that Section 10A (2)(b) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 is not applicable in the State of Meghalaya by virtue of the provision of Section 10 (Application for prospecting licenses or mining leases) of the said Act.

He also relied upon a decision of the Apex Court passed in Civil Appeal named State of Meghalaya vrs. All Dimasa Students Union, Dima-Hasao District Committee and Ors. with connected appeals (2019) 8SCC 177.

The bench observed the following while dismissing the petition, “It is pertinent to note that in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act Act, 2021 section 13 reads:-

“In section 10A of the principal Act, in sub-section (2),— 
(i) in clause (b), the following provisos shall be inserted, namely:— “Provided that for the cases covered under this clause including the pending cases, the right to obtain a prospecting licence followed by a mining lease or a mining lease, as the case may be, shall lapse on the date of commencement of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2021: Provided further that the holder of a reconnaissance permit or prospecting licence whose rights lapsed under the first proviso, shall be reimbursed the expenditure incurred towards reconnaissance or prospecting operations in such manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government.”; 
(ii) after clause (c), the following clause shall be inserted, namely:— “(d) in cases where right to obtain licence or lease has lapsed under, clauses (b) and (c), such areas shall be put up for auction as per the provisions of this Act: Provided that in respect of the minerals specified in Part B of the First Schedule where the grade of atomic mineral is equal to or greater than the threshold value, the mineral concession for such areas shall be granted in accordance with the rules made under section 11B.”.

The PIL filed by N.D. Rumnong seeks the following reliefs: 
A. Declare the impugned first proviso newly inserted in Section 10A(2)(b) of the Act, vide Section 13(i) of the Amendment Act, 2021, as ultra vires of the Constitution of India for being discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary on the vice of Article 14 of the Constitution of India and against public interest, and/or 
B. To save the said impugned first proviso from being rendered unconstitutional, this Hon’ble Court may please expound the scope of the same in such manner in public interest so that apart from pending applications, it would also nullify and render void all such Orders which had allowed pending applications saved by clause (b) of sub-section (2) of Section 10A and grant a prospecting licence or a mining lease prior to the commencement of the said Amendment Act, 2021, but a licence is yet to be issued or a mining lease deed is yet to be executed and registered as per the Minerals (Other than Atomic and Hydrocarbons Energy Minerals) Concession Rules, 2016.

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