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No permission to transport coal; nod to appoint new chairman
SHILLONG: The NGT principal bench has refused to provide any relief to the state government saying that it is hampering credible mechanism though the latter wanted expeditious transportation of already extracted 32 lakh metric tonnes of coal.
In the order delivered on Friday, the full bench of the NGT headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel expressed reservation on the objections made by the Meghalaya government regarding the recommendations of the NGT appointed committee headed by BP Katakey on the mode of auction and transportation of coal. “We have considered the objections. We are unable to appreciate the reasons for the stand that the recommendations are not feasible. Even if the exercise is considered by the state to be unnecessary, no serious difficulty is shown in doing so”, the NGT said.
The panel also said it is unable to hold that any of the direction is against the order of the Supreme Court or not feasible.
The suggestion of the Katakey panel was that the state government should provide NESAC the longitudes & latitudes of each dump where coal is to be auctioned. NESAC should also prepare geo-reference mapping for location of each dump and give it to state and CIL and they should put it on their website.
However, the government maintained that the identification of sale-points will be duplication of exercise and added that geo-referencing details are already there in affidavit filed by the state which has been provided to CIL and the same will be put up on website. The government also quoted para 48 and 187-192 of the order of the Supreme Court to state that this exercise is not required.
The Katakey panel also asked NESAC to conduct the annual land-use land cover analysis to determine continuous existence of coal on the sale-point.
The view of the state government was that this would be an unnecessary exercise. “Supreme Court observed in para 189 that 32,56,715 metric tonnes of coal were illegally mined. Yet directed its disposal thorough CIL and disbursal of funds to owners as per paras 192-192 of the order”, the government said.
According to Katakey panel, NESAC should divide each sale-point into three categories- coal continuously existing, coal dumped after April 17, 2014 following the ban and coal dumped after filing of affidavit. Moreover, money realised from auction of coal should not be disbursed till NESAC study is completed. However, the government has rejected the suggestions.
The Katakey committee said the amount realised should be disbursed immediately for coal existing prior to April 17, 2014 and for coal dumped between April 17, 2014 an affidavit should be placed before SC for further direction. For coal dumped thereafter, the money should be transferred to state funds. However, the state government said that the suggestion is contrary to the SC order. “Even after observing in para 189 that 32,56,715 metric tonnes of coal were illegally mined, the SC had directed its disposal thorough CIL and disbursal of funds to owners as per para 192. In para 186, the SC had affirmed ownership of private miners on 32,56,715 MT coal and held that their proprietary rights are not extinguished”, the government added.
According to the NGT panel, the CIL /state government/ owner/employee/ officer should be liable for disputes relating to quality and quantity of coal.
In response, the government is of the view that the question of providing a dispute resolution process in the plan does not arise because auction is on ‘as is where is’ basis and prospective bidders are allowed to inspect the lot before bidding. “Hence, no liability of CIL and state of Meghalaya thereafter. However, in case of a dispute between the seller and the buyer, the remedy under ordinary law of the land is always available to them”, the government pointed out.
In response, the NGT principal bench observed that the dispute resolution process recommended is certainly conducive to the handling of the long pending issues and is necessary for facilitating compliance of the directions for disposal of illegal mined material and the mandate of law. “We, thus, reject the objections of the state of Meghalaya. It is a matter of regret that state of Meghalaya, has by uncalled for objections, created a situation to hamper a credible mechanism set up by this Tribunal and approved by the Supreme Court by practically compelling the chairman of the committee to seek recusal”, the NGT said.
The NGT has accepted all the recommendations of the Katakey committee in its 4th, 5th and 6th interim reports.
The green panel also accepted the request of Katakey to be relieved from the post of chairman of the committee.
“Without in any manner meaning to dilute the exhaustive recommendations of the committee, the substance of the recommendations of the committee can be summed up to include monitoring of illegal mining and transportation of coal by the chief secretary of the state; steps for punitive measures for illegal mining – filling up gaps in the regulatory regime; action for preventing, minimising and mitigating environment pollution by acidic water from coal depots; electronic recording of movement of coal including by way of GPS and RFID Tags and having a central server for the purpose”, the NGT said.
The green panel also referred to the inspection of wings of BSF and vigilance department; establishing and supervising check posts and weigh bridges; utilization of the compensation amount for legitimate purposes in terms of the recommendations in the report; continuing A.K. Singh, nominee, IIT-ISM, Dhanbad as member of the committee; monitoring of sourcing of illegally mined coal by cement manufacturing/thermal power plants for enforcement of mining law, including punitive and remedial actions for sourcing of illegally mined material, as found by the committee; conducting necessary audit; study of land use and land cover analysis; drilling of bore holes in Khliehriat-Sutnga area in East Jaintia Hills district; preparation of geological report and feasibility report for scientific coal mining; compiling information about location of dumps of coal; finalising mode and manner of handling of coal and its disposal including e-auction; transfer of coal to Coal India Limited; monitoring of illegal export of coal to Bangladesh by an independent agency; adopting satellite surveillance systems; action by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) for enforcement of environmental norms; verification of claims of victims and disbursement of payments to them in the manner suggested by the committee and implementing action plan prepared by the committee by the SPCB.
According to the NGT, the compliance of all the recommendations may need to be closely monitored by the new committee. On suggestion of Meghalaya government, the NGT substituted Justice BD Agarwal, former Judge, Guwahati High Court as chairman of the committee. Justice Agarwal, a Judicial member of Lokayukta of Manipur, is willing to undertake the assignment subject to the approval of the Manipur government.
The NGT wanted Manipur government to consider the matter in consultation with Justice Agarwal.
If there is no objection, the NGT said Justice Agarwal may take up the assignment at the earliest. The committee will have to furnish further action taken report after three months preferably by April 30 this year.
The next hearing of the matter will be held on May 12.