The central government's right to allocate coal blocks under the MMDR Act is questioned by the Supreme Court.
The apex court feels that coal is a state mineral. It is the state which signs the mining lease and it is the executing authority. Allocation of coal blocks (by the centre) does not get any sanction by the Act, the court observed.
In a reply to an affidavit filed by the central government, the court observed that prima facie, allocation by the centre is not under any statutory process. There is no provision overriding the 1957 Act. This will require legal explanation, Justice Lodha told Attorney-General GE Vahanvati.
The court wonders whether the union government had overturned the statute governing allocation of coal mines by taking recourse to executive orders that confer overriding powers to a screening committee under the coal ministry.
The central government has filed a 2,000-page response to the court notice to explain its position on the alleged irregularities in coal block allocations revealed in a CAG report. The response, which was in reply to a public interest litigation, spelt out the government's stand on why these should not be cancelled.
The top court said it was basing its prima facie conclusions on a reading (of 500-odd pages) of the government's reply. The power that the centre has under the MMRD Act does not extend to allocation of coal blocks. Can you overlooking the 1957 Act and by executive orders, overturn the statutory scheme of things?, the court posed.
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