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Shift all surface coal to depots within 45 days: HC to govt

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SHILLONG, March 19: The High Court of Meghalaya has given the state 45 days to shift all the mined coal lying on the surface to designated coal depots of the Coal India Limited.
“It is open to the state to use the latest technology like drone for the purpose of proper surveillance in order to avoid further illegal mining,” the Division Bench of Chief Justice S Vaidyanathan and Justices HS Thangkhiew and Wanlura Diengdoh stated in an order passed on March 14 following the plea made by the Advocate General (AG), Amit Kumar.
The court further mentioned that the order dated 09.02.2024 has been passed for the purpose of shifting the remaining mined coal in various districts from the pitheads to the designated depots of Coal India Limited and also for the deputy commissioner and other authorities to issue necessary transit passes so as to enable the coal owners to participate in the transportation of the mined coal.
Pursuant to order dated 09.02.2024, the State has filed its status report dated 13.03.2024 regarding the updated status of disposal of inventoried coal and the action taken by the state in reply to the 20th interim report of Justice (retd) BP Katakey, the order said.
The court noted that the coal owners did not show any interest in getting the transit passes in spite of public notices having been issued, the court stated.
“It is further made clear that the State of Meghalaya shall be entitled to royalty and payment towards the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund and taxes to pay back the balance to the owner,” the order stated.
“It has been pointed out that some of the coke oven plants have already been closed. Since the Apex Court has already held that mined coal belong to the owners and they have got the propriety right, it does not mean that the coal shall be allowed to lie in the same place and by allowing that, there is a possibility of further illegal mining by keeping those mined coal in the same place,” the order stated.
The court further stated that they are of the view that the entire mined coal which is available in the surface land has got to be shifted or transmitted to a place where it shall be kept in storage for the transportation.
According to the court, the storage charges can be recovered from the coal owners for keeping the coal in a particular place and necessary charges can also be levied to be collected from the owners.
“Once the coal is transported, by usage of drone technology as suggested by Justice Katakey, the entire area can be in surveillance, if any coal is going to appear on the land surface it can be taken as an illegal mined coal in terms of Section 21 of the MMDR Act, 1957 and necessary action can be taken,” the court stated.
Moreover, the court mentioned that Justice Katakey (retired) has submitted another interim report dated 12.03.2024, which is the 21st interim report.
“Registry is directed to furnish a copy of the said report to all parties concerned and they are expected to raise their objections/statements based on the 21st interim report. Let a further remuneration of Rs 3 lakh to be paid to Justice Katakey, including the expenses incurred by him,” the court stated.
HC dismisses fresh plea on illegal coal mining
On the same day, the court dismissed a fresh public interest litigation (PIL) pertaining to illegal coal mining in the state.
The PIL was filed by former MLA Rophul S Marak and a businessman Robinson Ch Sangma, seeking to direct Justice (retd) BP Katakey or any independent investigation agency to conduct a spot inquiry into the extracted coal lying at Depot No.10 at Jadigittim in South Garo Hills.
The PIL also prayed for the court to direct the state respondents and other respondents to strictly implement and comply with the direction of the Supreme Court, and completely restrain the authorities from selling extracted coal through spot e-auction by Coal India Limited (CIL) from the depot in question.
The petitioners submitted that while upholding the order dated 17.04.2014 passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court through an order passed in 2019 had completely banned rat-hole mining in entire Meghalaya. They said the NGT in its order had directed the state’s Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to ensure that rat-hole mining/illegal mining is banned forthwith in the entire state.
“The counsel for the petitioners submitted that despite the orders of the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal to ban the complete rat-hole mining, illegal coal mining, and transportation of coal in the entire State of Meghalaya, no steps have been taken to prevent rampant illegal rat-hole mining and transportation of coal in Meghalaya, particularly in South Garo Hills,” the court said in the order.
“The petitioner’s counsel also submitted that the court, based on an article published in The Shillong Times with the heading “Mask of rat-hole mining falls in the state”, had taken suo-motu cognizance of illegal coal mining in the state being PIL No.2 of 2022 and vide order dated 23.02.2022, observed that the matter complained of needs to be looked into, without any political interference and further observed that an independent report should be filed by the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police after getting necessary inputs from the correspondent of The Shillong Times who visited the area,” the order said.
The Advocate General (AG) submitted that the matter is already pending before the one-man committee and that he is inquiring about the same and also submitting his periodical report before the High Court.
After hearing both sides, the court was of the view that in case the petitioners want to put forth their arguments in the PIL, which is already pending, they have to get themselves intervened in the said matter and make submissions and a separate PIL is not maintainable.
“That apart, the matter is pending before the One Man Committee and it is open to the petitioners, if so advised, to place all the factors before the One Man Committee to enable the said Committee to submit a detailed report before this Court. Hence, we are of the view that the present PIL is not maintainable and the same is dismissed with the above observation,” the court order further said.

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