Expert panel to study all aspects of coke factories in Meghalaya

SHILLONG, Sep 14: Meghalaya Government will set up a technical committee of experts to undertake a comprehensive study of all aspects related to coke plants in the state.
Replying to a zero hour notice moved by Opposition Chief Whip, PT Sawkmie based on a news item published by The Shillong Times on August 3 under the heading: “Villagers to protest against pollution from coke plants,” during the session on Tuesday, Forest and Environment Minister, James PK Sangma said that the technical committee to be set up by the Department will suggest specific recommendations including environmental safeguards and measures, public health issues, forest clearances and commissioning of pollution load study.
Earlier, the Minister said that since coke plants with production capacity of less than 25,000 metric tonnes per annum do not fall under the purview of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006, under which comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Environmental Management plan is mandatory, the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) has notified norms last year to control the ambient air quality of the surrounding area.
Giving details of the coke plants in East Jaintia Hills, Sangma said that the Single Window Agency (SWA) has conveyed in principle approval to 48 coke plants in the district, adding that projects cleared by SWA shall not be established and operated without clearances from different departments and the main permissions are Consent To Establish (CTE) and Consent To Operate (CTO).
The Forest and Environment minister said the MSPCB granted CTE to 13 coke plants and CTO to nine units in the district even as he maintained that the Board has identified 30 coke plants without CTE and closure notices have been served to the units for violation of Section 25 of Water Act, 1974 and Section 21 of Air Act, 1981.
The District Administration, East Jaintia Hills had in July this year along with the MSPCB conducted a joint physical inspection and issued notices to all coke plants without CTOs to stop their operations.
Sangma further stated that last month, the Environment Coordination Committee of Elaka Sutnga lodged a complaint that the coke plants have failed to comply with the order after which the Deputy Commissioner filed an FIR with the Superintendent of Police who registered seven cases against those coke plants allegedly operating without CTOs.
The minister also told the House that after a physical inspection of the Extra Assistant Commissioner, East Jaintia Hills, it was observed that the coal supplied to coke plants in the district are being transported from outside the state.
Sangma also asserted that after the closure notices were issued, inspection was carried out by the MSPCB and it was found that 24 coke plants had shut down while one unit was operating in violation of the closure notice.
“MSPCB will initiate action against the coke plant for violating the closure notice and a case will be registered,” Sangma said while adding that five other coke plants were issued closure notices on September 6 and verification of closure notices will be done.
Earlier while moving the zero hour notice, Sawkmie said that the coke plants have been affecting the health of the people and even the quality of water in the area while adding that the government has turned a deaf ear to the grievances of the people of Sutnga Elaka.
“All the 17 Congress MLAs demand that these coke factories be closed down once and for all,” Sawkmie said.
Elaka Sutnga committee to file PIL in High Court
In a related development, the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC) of Elaka Sutnga is contemplating to move a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court of Meghalaya if the state government fails to take action against the illegal coke plants.
“Moving the PIL will be the last resort if the state government fails to response to our demand within the five-day deadline,” ECC legal adviser, Reading War told reporters after meeting Chief Minister, Conrad K. Sangma on Tuesday.
“We have not lost our faith in the system. We want the government to act since our demand to dismantle and close down the illegal coke plants is a genuine one,” War said.
Terming their meeting with the CM as fruitful, War said Sangma has assured the delegation that the 31 illegal coke plants operating without CTE and three others operating without CTO would be shut down.
War also said that they have submitted the necessary proof of illegality of the coke plants along with the memorandum to the CM to justify their demand for closure of the plants.
War also questioned that silence of the seven legislators from Jaintia Hills region on the burning issue and pointed out that Mawlai MLA, PT Sawkmie had raised the issue concerning the people of East Jaintia Hills.

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