Coke factories choking lives
It took a public movement to bring to light grave irregularities committed by the state (meaning the Government and all statutory bodies) in setting up heavily polluting coke factories without following due procedure and therefore ‘illegally, in East Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills. The public are protesting against large-scale pollution which is seriously damaging to their health. This action of the state violates Article 21 of the Constitution which says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to law.” The ambit of Article 21 has been widened by the Supreme Court to include the right to a clean environment which includes, clean air and potable drinking water. The Fundamental Right under Article 21 ensures that a person or persons are not deprived of life because of the action or inaction of the state. It clearly means that this Fundamental Right has been provided against the state. Article 21 of the Constitution deals with prevention of encroachment upon the personal liberty of a person or deprivation of the life of a person.
According to Article 21 the ‘state’ cannot be defined in a restricted sense. It includes Government Departments, Legislature, Administration, Local Authorities exercising statutory powers. Hence the Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 21 relates only to acts of the state or acts under the authority of the state which are not according to procedures established by law. Right to Life means the right to live a meaningful, complete and dignified life. It does not have a restricted meaning. It means more than just mere survival or an animal existence. The people of Sutnga Elaka have been repeatedly raising this issue of pollution by coke factories and had approached the District Administration with a request to shut down these coke plants for violating all the laid down norms but to no avail. Normally, it is expected that the elected representative/s would take up issues which affect the life and death of the electorate. But such is not the case in Meghalaya. All those vested with authority appear to be complicit in this attempt to make profit at the cost of people’s lives.
For some time now the people of Sutnga have been complaining of poor health due to inhalation of polluted air. The smoke emitted by as many as four dozen coke factories in a small area and around human habitations has affected their health and the emission of waste from the factories has poisoned their drinking water sources. The role of the state in this case is clearly violative of Article 21. Why is the Meghalaya High Court a silent spectator?