Shillong, Feb 7: The High Court of Meghalaya on Tuesday ordered for deployment of Central forces after finding that the state machineries,including the police are not able to control illegal mining and transportation of coal.
After hearing a PIL in this regard, the bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Judges HS Thangkhiew and W Diengdoh said that there is a need to deploy sufficient units of either the Central Industrial Security Force or the Central Reserve Police Force to completely take over the policing of illegal coal mining activities including the transportation thereof from the state machinery; ‘obviously, at a cost that the state will have to bear for its abject inefficiency’.
The court observed that in the current scenario and considering that the state has been afforded nearly a year to take appropriate measures and the measures adopted by the state have fallen woefully short, it is necessary to call in the Central Armed Police Forces to monitor and stop the illegal activities pertaining to coal mining that continues in the state.
“Dr. Mozika, learned Deputy-Solicitor General of India, who is present in Court, is requested to take notice on behalf of the Union and to inform this Court, when the matter appears a week hence as to the formalities for the immediate deployment of sufficient units of either the Central Industrial Security Force or the Central Reserve Police Force to completely take over the policing of illegal coal mining activities including the transportation”, the court said.
SP pulled up
As far as the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills, is concerned, the court said he shall show- cause why punishment for contempt, including detention in jail, should not be suffered by him for the flagrant violation of orders of this court to check the illegal menace of unscientific coal mining rampant all over the East Jaintia Hills and the illegal transportation thereof.
The matter will be taken up again on February 14.
“Several questions were asked of the state in the previous order of December 7, 2022, not the least of them being that at least a further 13 lakh MT of coal has been found in deposit which is over and in excess of the previously mined coal.Such 13 lakh MT of coal together with the several tens of lakhs of illegally mined coal that has been transported out continue unabated and may even have increased in vigour in this election season”, the court said.
As observed in a recent order in a matter where the state admitted that it had discovered 57 illegal coke plants operating in a particular area in a district, there could have been no mushrooming or even functioning of any coke plant unless it had access to illegally extracted coal which was illegally transported to such coke plant, the court said, adding that it is only upon each discovery of illegal activity being made by this court that the state responds by assuring the court that steps would be taken to dismantle the illegal machinery; but the illegal activity mushrooms somewhere else and the state awaits the court’s further direction before undertaking the work that the date itself is obliged to take up. It is a really sorry state of affairs and an affront to the rule of law, the court observed.
Report on recent coal mine deaths
Justice B.P. Katakey (retired), who has been tasked by the court for overseeing and ensuring the disposal of the previously mined coal and to take steps to ensure that the recently illegally mined coal is not passed off as previously mined coal, has filed a further interim report on February 6.
The report refers to illegal coal mining and transportation and steps taken by Justice Katakey pursuant a newspaper report on or about January 10, 2023 that three mine workers had reportedly died inside a coal mine in Rymbai in the East Jaintia Hills district, the court said.
The chief secretary was requested to submit a report as to the veracity of the newspaper report.
The court said Justice Katakey’s latest interim report reveals that an FIR was lodged at Ladrymbai Outpost of the Khliehriat police station and a case was registered under Sections 188/304A/34 of the Penal Code read with Section 21(5) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 following the publication of such report.
Three bodies were which had been buried on January 10, were disinterred in terms of the order passed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Khliehriat and sent for autopsy to the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences. The autopsy reports are awaited.
“Doubtless, the state will furnish such autopsy reports when this matter is taken up next”, the court said.
The interim report filed by Justice Katakey refers to several cases having been registered pertaining to illegal extraction of coal in the recent months. As to illegal transportation of coal, 31 cases have been registered
in December, 2022 and January, 2023. “Surprisingly, even the rough estimates of the quantity of seized coal has not been indicated in any case”, the court said.
Despite high officials of the state, including the Chief Secretary, being summoned to Court and a contempt notice being issued against the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills district by the previous order in this matter, the illegal mining and illegal transportation of coal continue unabated and may even have increased in vigour in this election season, the court said.
State fails to provide alternative livelihood
The court said while it may be appreciated that a large number of people may have been left without a livelihood upon the ban on unscientific coal mining falling in place, it was the duty of the state to provide alternative forms of livelihood or even temporary succour to the citizens affected by the prohibition.
“At any rate, it was the initial duty of the state to check the illegal mining of coal, whatever may have been the reason or purpose As to the class of persons left with no other form of livelihood continuing to indulge in illegal mining of some form, if the state government had been serious in checking the illegal transportation of the illegally mined coal, without any demand for the illegally extracted coal further supplies would have stopped. Unfortunately, the state government has been singularly lacking in taking any proactive step,whether to arrest the continuation of illegal extraction of coal or check the rampant illegal transportation thereof”, the court added.
Caption for photo: A heap of coal found on February 1 near Boko in West Khasi Hills border (MM)