The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on Jharkhand government’s petition challenging its decision to go ahead with the auction of coal blocks for commercial mining, PTI reported.

A bench comprised of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna gave the Centre four weeks to reply to the writ petition and an original suit filed by the Jharkhand government in the matter.

On June 20, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren had said that the Narendra Modi government’s decision to auction coal blocks for commercial mining was a “blatant disregard of cooperative federalism”. The state government has alleged that the Centre launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining without consulting it.

“There is a need for fair assessment of the social and environmental impact on the huge tribal population and vast tracts of forestland of the state which are likely to be adversely affected,” the Jharkhand government’s petition said. “It will lead to large scale displacement and consequential rehabilitation and settlement issues.”

The Supreme Court told advocates Fali S Nariman and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Jharkhand government, that it is inclined to issue notice in this matter and hear it on injunction, listing it as early as possible. Nariman told the court it would be appropriate if the matter is listed before August 18, as the bids will take place then. However, the chief justice assured that the dates can be extended and that the attorney general will look into it.

The Jharkhand government stated that the negative global investment climate prevailing due to coronavirus situation was unlikely to fetch reasonable returns proportionate to the value of the scarce natural resources. It alleged that the Centre’s action is in violation of the environmental norms and will “cause irreparable damage” to the forests and land.

Jharkhand is ranked first in India’s coal reserves. With close to 84 billion tonnes of coal, it possesses 26% of the country’s coal deposit.

On June 10, Soren had written a letter to Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi. He had sought a moratorium of six to nine months on the auction to ensure equitable sustainable mineral-based development in the state. “Coal and iron ore are the two most significant minerals which are found in districts that have significant forest cover and host a large proportion of tribal population,” he said.

On June 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining through video-conference. It was part of the the Centre’s Rs 20 lakh crore special economic package to help the country recuperate from the economic fallout of the coronavirus. The process is open for domestic as well as global firms under the 100% foreign direct investment route. The prime minister had said the launch marked not only the implementation of reforms to the coal mining sector but also the beginning of creation of lakhs of jobs. He claimed it is a “win-win situation” for all.