The Delhi High Court has restrained the Centre from taking further steps concerning its order imposing a penalty of over Rs 66 crore on National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for allegedly failing to comply with the “production schedule” for a coal mine in Chhattisgarh for two years.

Justice Yashwant Varma issued notice on the petition by NTPC challenging the order and sought a response from the central government within ten days.

The court observed that the “matter requires consideration” while noting that the action under challenge is initiated against a government company and that no reasons were recorded by the concerned authorities while rejecting the contentions raised before it.

“Notice…Let counter affidavit be filed within a period of ten days from today. The petitioner shall have 48 hours thereafter to file a rejoinder affidavit,” said the court in its interim order dated July 8.

“Till the next date of listing, the respondent shall stand restrained from taking further steps pursuant to the impugned order dated July 6, 2022,” the court directed.

The NTPC, in its plea, submitted that the Centre did not appreciate the “ground realities” which hampered the coal production at the Talaipalli coal mine and arbitrarily accepted the recommendations of a Scrutiny Committee and consequently issued the appropriation order dated July 6, 2022, imposing a penalty of Rs 66,01,42,080 towards non-compliance with the production schedule for financial years 2019-20 and 2020-21.

The petitioner told the court that the entire process came to be derailed on account of a failure on the part of the Mines Development Officer to act in accordance with law as well as the anomalies existing in the approved mining plan.

It was further submitted that the period in question was also one during which the pandemic prevailed which clearly hampered operations and the issues highlighted to explain the failure to meet the mandated production targets were not accorded consideration.

“This decision (by the Centre) has been taken without taking note of the various difficulties which NTPC has faced in not being able to meet the scheduled targets which have been on account of reasons beyond the control of NTPC,” the petition said.

“In fact, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs headed by the Prime Minster itself has appreciated the difficulties and problems being faced by mine allottees in PSUs in meeting the coal production requirements and development of coal mine on account of reasons like law and order issues, enhancement in the area of forest from what was declared earlier, the resistance of landholders against land acquisition, geological surprises in terms of availability of coal resources, etc., and has decided not to penalize the mine allottees and give them a window to surrender the coal mine,” it added.

In the petition, the central public sector undertaking prayed for directions to quash the appropriation order and also restrain the authorities from taking any coercive steps, including encashment of the bank guarantee for an amount of Rs 66,01,42,080.

The matter would be heard next on July 22. PTI ADS RKS RKS

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