Ex-judge to study compliance with SC, NGT orders on coal

Coal illegalities in Meghalaya

SHILLONG, April 19: The High Court of Meghalaya on Tuesday appointed former judge of the Gauhati High Court, Justice BP Katakey to ascertain whether the state government has complied with the directives of the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal for cracking down on illegal coal mining.
Hearing a suo motu case on illegal mining in the state, the full bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice W Diengdoh and Justice H Thangkhiew said Justice Katakey has agreed to look into several aspects of the matter, particularly the extent of compliance with the directives of the SC and NGT.
According to the court, Justice Katakey will also recommend the measures to be immediately taken to comply with the outstanding directions, including the sale of coal now available under the aegis of Coal India Limited.
“The state will extend all cooperation to Justice Katakey, including providing his accommodation and travel for the purpose of completing the exercise in terms of this order as expeditiously as possible. An ad hoc remuneration of Rs 1 lakh will be paid by the state government to Justice Katakey subject to further consideration on such aspect,” the court stated.
It also said Justice Katakey should file a preliminary report on the compliance of the orders of the SC and the NGT and what more needs to be done. The report should be filed within four weeks, the court added.
Justice Katakey will also look into the measures adopted by the state to ensure that there is no unregulated or illegal coal mining or any instance of rat-hole mining anywhere.
Referring to an April 4 order seeking the setting up of a committee to assess the compliance with the directions of the apex court and the NGT, the court said: “It will also be open to the state to explore the possibilities of regulating coal mining in accordance with law, upon ensuring that all illegal coal mining activities are stopped and the machinery for the illegal mining activities are completely removed and dealt with.”
The court said one of the key aspects of the matter is the sale of coal extracted before the NGT banned rat-hole mining in April 2014. The SC had issued directions for the sale of such coal.
“As a result of the sale of the previously mined coal not being completed, illegal coal-mining was, in a sense, facilitated with the illegal miners claiming that the freshly mined coal was actually the previously mined coal. It is imperative that the entire stock of coal be sold as expeditiously as possible,” the order said.
The court said appropriate action needs to be taken against the persons involved in illegal coal mining and regretted that the state did not take action against any official without whose connivance such activities could not have continued.
The court listed the matter for another hearing on May 24.
It may be noted that Justice Katakey had resigned as Chairman of the NGT panel, constituted by the Tribunal and endorsed by the Supreme Court, in December 2019 citing personal reasons.
The panel was appointed on August 31, 2018, to finalise the mode and manner of auction of over 32 lakh metric tonnes of coal lying in various places across the state to be conducted by CIL.
It was later revealed that the actual reason behind Katakey’s resignation was that the state government had refused to divulge details of the already extracted coal. The state government had even written to the committee that it had no jurisdiction to seek such information.

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