Shillong, April 19: After he relinquished the post of Chairman of NGT-appointed commitee in December, 2019, retired Justice BP Katakey is back to monitor illegal coal mining thanks to the intervention of the High Court of Meghalaya.
The court appointed Katakey to head a committee for recommending the measures to be taken by the state in compliance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to stop illegal coal mining and to speed up the sale of already extracted coal.
Hearing a PIL in this regard, the court said Justice Katakey will recommend the measures to be immediately taken to comply with the outstanding directions, including the sale of coal now available, under the aegis of Coal India Limited.
Earlier on August 31, 2018, Katakey, a former Judge of the Gauhati High Court, was appointed by the NGT but he quit the post after a year after the state government failed to provide the exact quantity of extracted coal to be transported and auctioned after the NGT ban on coal mining.
However, Katakey had cited personal reasons for relinquishing the post.
Katakey made several recommendations and a number of the recommendations formed the basis for the directions issued by the Supreme Court in the order of July 3, 2019.
The decision of the full bench was following the previous order of the court passed on April 4, which had proposed that a committee would be set up on the lines as formed by the NGT earlier to ascertain ‘whether the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the NGT had been complied with; and, to the extent that they had not been, how the same could be complied with at the earliest’.
The court said one of the key aspects of the matter is the sale of coal that had already been mined prior to the prohibition on mining by the orders of the NGT. Directions were issued by the Supreme Court for the sale of such coal.
The court said as a result of the sale of the previously mined coal not being completed, illegal coal mining was, in a sense, facilitated with the illegal miners claiming that the freshly mined coal was actually the previously mined coal.
Stating that it is imperative that the entire stock of coal be sold as expeditiously as possible, the court said, “Justice Katakey has agreed to look into the several aspects of the matter, particularly the extent to which the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the NGT have been complied with and what more needs to be done for such compliance.”
The court has also asked Katakey to file a preliminary report within four weeks.
“Justice Katakey should file a preliminary report dealing with the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the NGT that have been complied with and, more importantly, suggesting expeditious steps to comply with the outstanding directions, including the transportation and sale of the available coal.”
Justice Katakey will also look into the measures adopted by the state to ensure that there is no unregulated or illegal coal mining or any instance of rat-hole mining anywhere, the court said.
The bench said it will also be open to the state to explore the possibilities of regulating coal mining in accordance with law, upon ensuring that all illegal coal-mining activities are stopped and the machinery for the illegal mining activities are completely removed and dealt with in accordance with law.
The court also directed the state government to extend all cooperation to Katakey, including providing for his accommodation and travel for the purpose of completing the exercise in terms of this order as expeditiously as possible.
An ad-hoc remuneration of Rs 1 lakh will be paid by the state to Justice Katakey subject to further consideration on such aspects, the court said.
Court unhappy with govt inaction
The court also pulled up the state government for its failure to take action against any official involved in the illegal coal mining activities.
“Appropriate action also needs to be taken against the persons involved, and it is a matter of regret that despite previous observations in such regard that illegal coal-mining activities could not have been continued without the local administration’s connivance, the state has not taken any action against any official,” the court said.
Earlier during the hearing, the state had claimed that illegal coal-mining activities across the state have been brought to a halt.
Advocate General informed that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been prepared by the state so that upon obtaining the Centre’s permission under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, prospecting activities can be permitted.