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SHILLONG: Two years into the ban on rat hole mining, other than dealing with the transportation of extracted coal after payment of royalty periodically, hurdles are aplenty before NGT lifts the ban once and for all.
It was on April 17, 2014 that the NGT in an interim order banned the rat hole mining in the State, crippling the economy.
In a recent order, the NGT has allowed payment of royalty till April 15 and the transportation of extracted coal till May 15 after which the State government has been authorized to sell or auction the remaining coal.
An official with the Mining and Geology department said on Monday that the first hurdle before the State government is to amend the Coal Mines Nationalization Act, 1973 which was taken up with the Union Coal ministry by the State government.
As per the current Act, all the coal mines including those in the State belong to the Union government.
As far as the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015 is concerned since the Act has the provision for allocation of coal mines through auctions this is contrary to the mining practices in Meghalaya.
This Act also needs amendment to continue with the coal mining in Meghalaya, the official said.
The official added that to exempt provisions of Coal Mines Nationalization Act, 1973 and Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, the State Assembly has already passed a resolution urging the Centre to invoke Paragraph 12A (b) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution so that these central laws will not be applied to Meghalaya which can be rescinded through a Presidential notification.
The argument the State government wants to make is that since coal mining in the State is part of customary tribal rights, the existing central laws will come into conflict with the current practice.
Hence, according to the State government, a Presidential notification under the provision of Paragraph 12A (b) of the Sixth Schedule can exempt Sixth Schedule areas in the State from the purview of central mining laws.
When contacted to know the follow up action after the NGT ban, counsel of the State government and the Supreme Court lawyer Ranjan Mukherjee said that the mining plan and the mining guidelines are still pending with the Union Coal ministry for final approval.
“Another expert committee under the State government formed as per the direction of NGT will have to submit a report within four weeks from March 31 on the steps taken for the restoration of the environment and ecology, particularly protection of water bodies due to unscientific coal mining activities,” he said.
Mukherjee said that the expert committee has been asked to co-ordinate with NEHU to come up with a suitable report.
Though the loss due to the ban on coal mining per year was calculated at more than Rs 600 crore, the State government till date has earned revenue of nearly Rs 800 crore from the payment of royalty and others.
“From November 2014 till date, calculating the royalty, Meghalaya Environmental Restoration Fund paid by the coal transporters and the money earned from the quantity of coal declared and the quantity assessed, the total amount will come to Rs 800 crore under these three heads,” he said.
However, there was no full enforcement of the ban as there were reports of extraction and transportation of coal sporadically in parts of the State especially in Jaintia Hills.
The State government had last month submitted to NGT the names of as many as 41 mine owners as responsible for illegal extraction and transportation of coal.
As a fall out the NGT ban, while two villagers were killed and seven others injured in police firing at Mookhep village in East Jaintia Hills on September 14, 2014 after they protested against the ban on coal mining, another tragedy was the death of P.J. Marbaniang, the officer in charge of Patharkhmah police outpost on January 25 last year, a day after he had detained 32 trucks which were illegally transporting coal.