State

HC wants action against officials on coal issue

Shillong, June 21: The government has failed to implement majority of the directions issued by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the past.

The High Court of Meghalaya observed this while referring to the first interim report submitted by Justice (Retd) BP Katakey on June 20.

The court wanted explanation from the Chief Secretary as to why action should not be taken against officials in view of such failure.

“On a preliminary reading of the first interim report, it is evident that a majority of the directions are yet to be implemented though such directions were issued several years back,” the full bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice HS Thangkhiew and Justice W Diengdoh said while hearing a PIL on Tuesday..

Justice Katakey’s report includes a detailed chart indicating the recommendations made in the preliminary report filed by him, the action taken as per a report received on June 4, 2022 and the action taken as per a further report received on June 15, 2022.

The court wanted that future affidavits in this matter should be filed by the state through its Chief Secretary since she has been made responsible to ensure compliance of the directions in the relevant orders.

“The Chief Secretary will also explain why a recommendation should not be made by this court for taking appropriate action against such officials in view of the abject failure of the state to comply with the directions issued several years back,” the court said.

The court observed that it appears that the state may be less than willing to prosecute the persons who indulged in or continue to indulge in illegal coal-mining, for obvious reasons.

“An extreme adverse inference may be drawn by the court if the state is found lacking in such regard and a comprehensive report of how the state is proceeding with vigour against the illegal minors is not placed before the court,” it added.

It also directed that the state authorities take immediate steps to dispose of the previously mined coal so that freshly mined coal cannot be mixed up with the previous coal and an excuse proffered that the freshly mined coal was also a part of the previously mined coal.

It has also added Coal India Limited as a party to the present proceedings for the purpose of ensuring the speedy disposal of coal.

Coal India Limited has been asked to be represented before Justice Katakey and ensure that the previously mined coal is disposed of as expeditiously as possible

“Let the matter appear a fortnight hence for the state’s comments on the first interim report filed by Justice Katakey. By then, the state should be ready with timelines that should meet the approval of Justice Katakey, for the implementation of all the directions issued in the relevant orders passed by the Supreme Court and the NGT,” it said.

The court has directed that Justice Katakey will be paid a further ad hoc remuneration of Rs 1.50 lakh and he will also be entitled to run a secretariat till the present commission lasts at an expense not exceeding Rs 30,000 per month.

It also directed that the affidavits filed by the Central Pollution Control Board, the North-Eastern Space Applications Centre and the Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forest should be made available to Justice Katakey.

The matter will be heard again on July 12.

Weight of goods vehicles 

In another order, the court asked the state government to submit a report on measures taken to effectively implement the existing rules regarding the permissible weight of goods vehicles plying in the state.

“The state should file a report when the matter appears next three months hence, indicating the measures taken to effectively implement the existing rules pertaining to the permissible weight of goods vehicles plying in the state,” the two-member bench said while hearing a PIL filed by social activist Tennydard M Marak.

Considering the hilly terrain here and the heavy rainfall that the state experiences, it is absolutely imperative that goods vehicles adhere to the weight norms that may have been fixed, the court observed.

Further, the state should revisit the norms as to weight to ensure that the already precarious conditions of the roads due to the rain do not worsen as a result of overladen goods vehicles plying the highway, the court said.

The state however submitted that appropriate facilities may not be in place for weighing goods vehicles in transit upon the police or traffic personnel suspecting a vehicle to be carrying more weight than permissible.

The court, however, said the state should make use of the existing weigh-bridges and, possibly, install additional weigh-bridges at key places, particularly close to the entry points in the state and at several places midway.

Adequate number of personnel should also be deployed to ensure that goods vehicles using the state’s roads adhere to the weight restrictions in accordance with law, the order said.

The next hearing will be on September 21.

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