Shillong, Oct 18: The High Court of Meghalaya has asked the Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police and all other
police personnel not bow to any political interference while dealing with illegal mining of coal.
During the hearing of the PIL in this regard on Tuesday, the full bench of the court also wanted to ensure that not an ounce of coal is transported.
“The Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police and all other police personnel will ensure strict compliance and will not
bow to any political interference in the matter”, the court said.
The court wanted the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to completely arrest all forms of illegal mining of coal in the state.
“The Chief Secretary, Director General of Police will be accountable if any form of illegally mined coal is henceforth discovered in the state. The Director General of Police will instruct all Superintendents of Police in the various districts to ensure that not an ounce of illegally mined coal is allowed to pass, whether in trucks or other vehicles.
SPs to be held in contempt
The Superintendents of Police in all districts in the state are put on notice that if illegally mined coal in the state is found to have originated in or passed through their jurisdiction, they shall be held in contempt”, the court said.
The court said apart from the dangerous form of rat-hole mining that is undertaken, particularly in the eastern part of the state, there are murmurs that the illegally mined coal in the state is smuggled out of the state and is returned for apparent export to a neighbouring country on the basis of fabricated documents to suggest that the coal originated in some other state.
It said there are also credible reports that a substantial part of the illegally mined coal in the state is transported to other states, primarily on trucks bearing Nagaland license plates and with papers showing the coal to have been mined in some other Northeastern state.
Indeed, it may not be any coincidence that the entire stretch of the national highway in the Goalpara district of Assam between Dudhnoi and Krishnai is littered with coal dumps on either side of the road replacing agricultural fields.
It is of significance that there are at least three roads between Dudhnoi and Krishnai that lead to Meghalaya, two of them to the North Garo Hills District and the third being a road via Paikan that goes to Tura.
The court said the Supreme Court had passed orders based on the initial orders passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to completely arrest the illegal mining of coal in the state.
The other directions issued by the NGT and the Supreme Court are incidental to the principal part of the order and are to ensure the confiscation and disposal of the previously illegally mined coal.
“One must not miss the wood for the trees by ensuring compliance with the incidental directions for the disposal of the previously illegally mined coal without being alive to the complete prohibition of coal mining in the state otherwise than in accordance with law,” it said.
The court also informed that a policy has been notified for mining of coal in the State on March 5, 2021 and several applications have been received. However, no license has yet been issued for any mining thus far.
“Yet, rampant illegal mining of coal continues despite orders of this Court dating back, probably, to March of this year. The NGT and Supreme Court orders have been in place from 2016 or earlier,” it observed.
The court has directed the state and its officials to complete the process of disposing of the previously mined coal by the end of 2023.
It has also asked the Coal India Limited and MSTC Ltd to render adequate assistance and should immediately report to Justice Katakey in the event of any failure on the part of the State to adhere to the timelines or terms or upon any impediment being brought in the way of the early and quick disposal of the previously mined coal.
The state had filed a report on October 17, incorporating a notification on October 13, issued by the Mining and Geology Department of the State and indicating the revised comprehensive plan for handing over the extracted coal to Coal India Limited for auction.
The notification appears to be comprehensive in the aspects covered by it, particularly to ensure that fresh illegally mined coal is not mixed up with the previously mined coal and passed off as such.
The court said Justice Katakey will continue to monitor the process on a periodic basis and all information sought should be provided to Justice Katakey by the state, Coal India Limited and MSTC.
During the hearing, Dr Mozika, DSGI, seeks leave to intervene as Advocate of the court and submitted that the commercial terms for the auction may not have been appropriately fixed.
He pointed out that the earnest deposit in the first round of auction has been kept so low that successful bidders have not come to collect the quantities allotted to them.
The suggestion is that if the quantum of earnest deposit is substantially raised, serious parties will be in the fray and the process may be expedited.
“It is hoped that Justice Katakey looks into this aspect of the matter so that a process of re-auctioning and consequent delay can be avoided,” the court said.
The next hearing will be on November 9.