‘Abode of clouds appears to be an abode of anarchy’
Govt draws HC ire for adding “incidental” in Minor Mineral Concession Rules
Tens of crores of rupees in revenue have been lost to the state, at least from 2018 to 2021, through illegal extraction of minor minerals by tweaking the definition provision and including “incidental” within its fold without following it up by maintaining any check or balance as to how the “incidentally” extracted limestone or minor mineral was being transported or dealt with. It obviously led to free loot and a mad scramble among the most favoured to make merry at the cost of the state. The guardians of the state assets let veritable poachers in for obvious extraneous considerations. The state’s action is not unakin to a house owner inviting thieves to loot all his properties and then seeking a commission on the sale thereof…
SHILLONG, April 5: Venting its ire on the state government for bringing in the word “incidental” into the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 2016 on January 29, 2018, the division bench of the High Court of Meghalaya observed that “the abode of clouds appears to be an abode of anarchy and, quite alarmingly, it may be state sponsored.”
Hearing a PIL filed by Lawyerson War on Tuesday, the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice HS Thangkhiew and Justice W Diengdoh said, “What is evident from the documents relied upon by the petitioner in this PIL is that an amendment was brought about in the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 2016 on January 29, 2018 with what appears to be a disingenuous design to facilitate illegal quarrying and mining.”
“Incidental” in the context of extraction of minor minerals means such an unintended extraction which arises out of non-mining activities such as construction of roads or other major infrastructural projects, the court said, while observing that the definition is not exhaustive and it refers to certain activities like construction of roads and other major infrastructural projects as falling within the meaning of “incidental extraction” of minor minerals, but deliberately leaving it open for interpretation and application in other cases.
The court observed that based on the inclusion of the word “incidental”, a person may dig deep in his ground to extract some minor mineral and claim to have “incidentally” extracted the same while preparing the field for cultivation. And, as an official list shows, that is exactly what has happened by acts of wanton plundering by euphemistically referring to it as “incidental” extraction and the administration endorsing such activity.
The court also took note of the fact that the Advocate-General appearing for the state has no answer to any of the glaring anomalies that have been pointed out and admits to a sorry state of affairs.
The court said that responses to queries made under the Right to Information Act, 2005 relied upon by the petitioner reveal that though the notification tweaking the definition in the said Rules of 2016 had been issued in 2018, till the middle of 2019, there was no corresponding notification for transporting the “incidentally” extracted minor minerals despite the rampant practice of the issuance of “incidental challans.”
The court noted that the petition reveals that several persons “incidentally” extracted amounts as much as 99,061.2 MT, 42,907 MT, 34,621 MT of limestone in course of construction of a farmhouse or a residential pathway or paving the way to a paddy field. There are several such instances of large scale “incidental” extraction of limestone without it being in course of any road construction or infrastructural project.
The court made it clear that there is executive complicity in the matter. “Indeed, this reflects an utterly inept bureaucracy and no check or balance or any accountability at any level. Though it should not surprise the court any more as it has already been discovered today that 50 years since the inception of the state, the administration seems lacking in every sphere from healthcare to traffic to preserving the environment or even implementing orders of the Supreme Court that remain outstanding for years together.
According to the court, there was state support for the continuing illegal mining despite orders having been passed several years back by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
“Indeed, one of the persons who “incidentally” extracted limestone as a minor mineral was involved in coal-mining operations prior to the NGT ban as has been disclosed in a list issued by the Divisional Forest Officer of Jaintia Hills Territorial Division, Jowai, a region which has seen rampant illegal coal mining that prompted suo motu proceedings to be initiated by this court,” the order said.
“It may be necessary for external agencies, not having any connection with the state, to be brought in to put the house in order here. It is inconceivable that such colossal maladministration caused by design would continue despite there being a bureaucratic set-up in place. At best, the administration appears to be rudderless with the deficiencies admitted by Advocate-General everyday but no remedial measures being taken,” it said.
“Again, for reasons which are difficult to apprehend, it is the Forest Department which is entrusted with the matter of monitoring licenses and permits under the said Rules of 2016 without there being any separate specialised authority in such regard. Tens of crores of rupees in revenue have been lost to the state, at least from 2018 to 2021, through illegal extraction of minor minerals by tweaking the definition provision and including “incidental” within its fold without following it up by maintaining any check or balance as to how the “incidentally” extracted limestone or minor mineral was being transported or dealt with. It obviously led to free loot and a mad scramble among the most favoured to make merry at the cost of the state. The guardians of the state assets let veritable poachers in for obvious extraneous considerations. The state’s action is not unakin to a house owner inviting thieves to loot all his properties and then seeking a commission on the sale thereof,” the order said.
The court directed the Chief Secretary to report on the immediate measures taken to check such “incidental” loot of minor minerals when the matter appears a fortnight hence, by filing a report in such regard.