HC sniffs state govt role in illegal coal mining
‘Let a rule of contempt be issued against SP of East Jaintia Hills’
SHILLONG, Dec 7: The High Court of Meghalaya on Wednesday said the illegal mining of coal continues, possibly, with the state’s participation and encouragement.
The full bench of the High Court, comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justices HS Thangkhiew and W Diengdoh, lamented this has happened despite the court’s several orders issued as a consequence of the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which was upheld by the Supreme Court.
“Since previous orders of this Court had indicated that the relevant Superintendent of Police would be held in contempt if illegal mining or transportation of illegally mined coal was discovered within his jurisdiction, let a rule of contempt be issued against the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills based on the report dated December 3, 2022 filed by the Deputy Commissioner of the same district,” the court said in an order.
It said Justice (retd) BP Katakey, appointed to implement the NGT and Supreme Court directions, filed the ninth interim report.
“Apart from certain procedural matters and the amendments to the standard operating procedure earlier set, the report reveals a serious issue from which it is evident that the State continues to play fast and loose with the Court,” the court said.
Stating that in the course of re-verifying and reassessing the quantity of coal which was mined prior to prohibition and had to be auctioned, the order said the Chief Secretary had stated in a report on September 20 this year that 32,56,715 MT of coal was available for auction.
According to the court, the status after further verification, as indicated in the latest report filed by Justice Katakey, is that prior to the imposition of the ban, the total quantum of coal available was 19,54,258.816 MT. It was 8,90,670 MT in East Jaintia Hills, 3,86,253 MT in West Khasi Hills, 3,77,790 MT in South Garo Hills and 2,99,545.816 MT in South West Khasi Hills.
“What is apparent is that in addition to the previously illegally mined coal measuring approximately 19,54,259 MT, a further 13 lakh MT of coal was illegally mined, transported and discovered which the State sought to pass off as coal mined prior to the imposition of the ban,” the court order said.
The court has no doubt that there are further amounts of coal, in addition to the total quantity of 32.56 lakh MT as indicated in the Chief Secretary’s report.
“For such purpose, Justice Katakey has suggested drone videography and a meeting in such regard was held on December 2, 2022. It is hoped that the directions issued by Justice Katakey are adhered to. There is a further point which finds mention in the report and needs to be noticed,” the court said.
“The State reports that the processes of transportation and auction of the previously mined coal are continuing as per the timelines indicated by the State,” the court order stated.
The State said this has taken some time as Justice Katakey issued an additional direction to fit the vehicles transporting the coal with GPS devices.
According to the court order, the vehicles have now been fitted with the appropriate device and it is expected that by the end of December this year, the bar-chart in such regard would be adhered to.
The court order also mentioned that a report was sought by Justice Katakey from the Deputy Commissioner of East Jaintia Hills on a news report appearing on a website under the caption “Wonder caves in Jaintia Hills at risk from rampant mining”.
The court said the report furnished by the DC on December 3, 2022 revealed attempts at illegal mining of coal in the recent past including blasting that endangered the Krem Lait Prah cave situated at Shnongriam village in the district. “The Deputy Commissioner has also reported that directions have been issued to the relevant Magistrate to undertake frequent inspections and to impose prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973,” the court order stated.
As regards the transportation and auction of the previously mined coal, the exercise should proceed as planned, the court order stated, adding that the directions issued by Justice Katakey should be adhered to and the drone videography and photography that Justice Katakey suggested should be completed without undue delay.
The court said the remainder of the coal out of the approximately 32,56,715 MT of coal as indicated in the Chief Secretary’s report has also to be auctioned since that is illegally mined.
According to the court order, Justice Katakey will oversee the transportation and sale of even such part of the coal and any further quantity that may be seized by the State as a consequence of the illegal mining that continues.
“Let a copy of the ninth interim report be handed over to learned Advocate-General for circulation to any of the parties interested in obtaining the same,” the court order stated.
The next hearing will be held on February 7, 2023. The court order said the contempt rule will also be returnable on the same date.