HC gives 7 days to govt to indicate amount of previously-mined coal dumped at each site

SHILLONG, Aug 25: The High Court of Meghalaya has given seven days to the state government to indicate the quantities of previously-mined coal (up to 2016) lying in each of the sites as referred to in the third interim report filed by Justice (retd) BP Katakey.
The direction came amidst allegations that coal is still being extracted illegally and transported and shown as mined before.
The full bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justices HS Thangkhiew and W Diengdoh said measuring coal lying by the roadside may not require any rocket science technology.
The state government could not indicate the exact quantities of coal mined prior to 2016 and which awaits disposal. However, according to the third interim report dated August 9, 2022 and filed by Justice Katakey, the previously-mined coal “is lying as per NGT inventory” by the sides of public roads at 24 places – 12 in East Jaintia Hills, two in West Khasi Hills, seven in South West Khasi Hills and three in South Garo Hills.
Advocate General Amit Kumar submitted that the previously-mined coal may be lying in dumps which could be 1,500 or even more.
The bench ordered that the state government, whether with the assistance of the Coal India Limited (CIL) or otherwise, ensure that the previously-mined coal at each of these sites is measured within a week.
The bench said this urgent direction is given since the NGT had passed orders around 2017 indicating an outer time-limit for the disposal of the previously-mined coal. It said although the Supreme Court order of July 3, 2019 somewhat relaxed the time schedule and Justice Katakey required to make appropriate recommendations and oversee the disposal by auction, the process cannot continue endlessly.
“It is evident that Justice Katakey has not been able to make much progress in the disposal since the figures as to the quantum of coal lying at each site have not been furnished and unless the quantities are ascertained, the logistics of transportation and storing them in demarcated depots may not be worked out, leave alone auction,” the bench said in its order.
“Whatever be the number of dumps, the State has to stand by the particulars furnished before Justice Katakey and as recorded…in the third interim report. It is imperative that the coal lying at such places be disposed of in accordance with law and upon following the pollution control measures pertaining thereto as expeditiously as possible,” the bench ordered.
Further, it ordered that for a start, an inventory of the exact quantum of coal at each place be prepared.
“There is a little game that the State and CIL may have been indulged in by which the State expects CIL to carry out the measurements but CIL says that it has formed a committee without any indication to Court as to how the measurement work is being undertaken,” the bench said.
It directed that with the State ascertaining the quantities of coal at each site, the demarcated depots, including the existing ones, to hold the entire quantity of coal should be indicated to the court with a timeline, as in a bar chart, disclosing how the disposal up to the last kilogram would be completed within a period of, say, nine to ten months beginning September 1, 2022.
“The State has been asked to keep in mind the prescribed norms for the transportation of coal and its storage and will ensure and adopt adequate measures in such regard in accordance with law at the depots prior to the transportation activity being commenced,” the bench said.
It further said that once the quantities of coal lying at the various sites are indicated, Justice Katakey may make appropriate recommendations in consultation with the officials of the state government and the CIL for its disposal, upon directing strict adherence to pollution and other applicable norms.
The bench said it appears from the third interim report and as has been confirmed by the Advocate General that approximately 67,525 MT of coal illegally mined after 2016-17 has been seized and the same awaits disposal.
It is necessary that such coal be disposed of as expeditiously as possible so that fresh illegally mined coal is not dumped on top of such seized coal and sought to be passed off as previously mined coal, the bench said.
On the seized coal, the bench said requisite permission should be obtained from the relevant criminal courts in accordance with Section 21 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.
Justice Katakey had filed a fourth interim report, dated August 23, 2022.
The bench said the other aspect of the matter pertains to the applicants impleaded in the present proceedings pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court dated June 27, 2022.
“It was submitted on behalf of such parties that though a blanket closure of all coke oven plants in the State had apparently been recommended by Justice Katakey and it was directed to be implemented by this Court in an order passed on May 24, 2022, the matter pertaining to coke oven plants finds reference, inter alia, at paragraphs 3.17, 3.18 Page 6 of 8 and 3.19 of the third interim report filed by Justice Katakey on August 9, 2022,” the bench said.
It is recorded in the third interim report that the State of Meghalaya informed the single-member committee that none of the 26 coke oven plants in the State is presently in operation, the bench said.
It said the State also informed the committee that the certificates signifying consent to establish (CTE) and the further certificates permitting such coke oven plants to operate (CTO) have not been issued or are no longer valid and the 26 coke oven plants cannot commence any activity without obtaining the CTOs, just as no new coke oven plant can operate without obtaining the CTE.
“The 26 added parties seeking to operate coke oven plants in the State submitted that they accept the position as indicated at paragraph 3.19 of the said report. However, it is submitted on their behalf that nothing in the recommendations made by Justice Katakey or any order passed by this Court in the present proceedings should stand in the way of such parties applying for and obtaining due permission or license or appropriate certificate to establish or operate coke oven plants in accordance with law,” the bench said.
It was the further submitted on behalf of the 26 added parties that the conditions for obtaining permission or license to operate coke oven plants have been altered by the State to the detriment of all those intending to operate coke oven plants and, as such, a writ petition has been instituted in the Court challenging the sitting norms issued by the State Pollution Control Board on December 23, 2020.
The court made it clear that the present proceedings will not stand in the way of any person interested in operating coke oven plants applying for and obtaining due permission in accordance with law from the appropriate authorities.
The court said it will also be open to the 26 added parties or such of them who have instituted the writ petition challenging the new norms to pursue the petition in accordance with law. The pendency of the present proceedings should not stand in the way of such writ petitions being prosecuted, it said.
Given the directions issued pertaining to the 26 added parties, the bench said they are discharged from the present proceedings.

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