Shillong: The Meghalaya High Court today directed the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police not to bow to any “political interference” while implementing the order to completely arrest the illegal mining of coal in the state.
“The Chief Secretary, the Director-General of Police and all other police personnel will ensure strict compliance in such regard and will not bow to any political interference in the matter,” the full bench of the Meghalaya High Court said in its order while hearing a PIL on the matter.
The court also warned that the Chief Secretary and the DGP will be accountable if any form of illegally mined coal is henceforth discovered in the State while directing the DGP to instruct all Superintendents of Police (SPs) in the various districts to ensure that not an ounce of illegally mined coal is allowed to pass, whether in trucks or other vehicles.
“The SPs in all districts in the State are put on notice that if illegally mined coal in the State is found to have originated in or passed through their jurisdiction, they shall be held in contempt,” it further warned.
The court said apart from the dangerous form of rat-hole mining that is undertaken, particularly in the eastern part of the State, there are murmurs that the illegally mined coal in the State is smuggled out of the State and is returned for apparent export to a neighbouring country on the basis of fabricated documents to suggest that the coal originated in some other State.
It said there are also credible reports that a substantial part of the illegally mined coal in the State is transported to other States.
The court said the Supreme Court had passed orders based on the initial orders passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to completely arrest the illegal mining of coal in the state.
The other directions issued by the NGT and the Supreme Court are incidental to the principal part of the order and are to ensure the confiscation and disposal of the previously illegally mined coal.
“One must not miss the wood for the trees by ensuring compliance with the incidental directions for the disposal of the previously illegally mined coal without being alive to the complete prohibition of coal mining in the State otherwise than in accordance with the law,” it said.
The court also informed that a policy has been notified for the mining of coal in the State on March 5, 2021, and several applications have been received. However, no license has yet been issued for any mining thus far.
“Yet, rampant illegal mining of coal continues despite orders of this Court dating back, probably, to March of this year. The NGT and the Supreme Court orders have been in place from 2016 or earlier,” it observed.
Meanwhile, the court has directed the state and its officials to complete the process of disposing of the previously mined coal by the end of 2023.
It has also asked Coal India Limited and MSTC Ltd to render adequate assistance and should immediately report to Justice Katakey in the event of any failure on the part of the State to adhere to the timelines or terms or upon any impediment being brought in the way of the early and quick disposal of the previously mined coal.
The State had filed a report dated October 17, incorporating a notification dated October 13, issued by the Mining and Geology Department of the State and indicating the revised comprehensive plan for handing over the extracted coal to Coal India Limited for auction.
The notification appears to be comprehensive in the aspects covered by it, particularly to ensure that fresh illegally mined coal is not mixed up with the previously mined coal and passed off as such.
The court said Justice Katakey will continue to monitor the process on a periodic basis and all information sought should be provided to Justice Katakey by the State, Coal India Limited and MSTC.
During the hearing, Dr Mozika, DSGI, seeks to leave to intervene as an Advocate of this Court and submits that the commercial terms for the auction may not have been appropriately fixed.
He pointed out that the earnest deposit in the first round of auction has been kept so low that successful bidders have not come to collect the quantities allotted to them.
The suggestion is that if the quantum of the earnest deposit is substantially raised, serious parties will be in the fray and the process may be expedited.
“It is hoped that Justice Katakey looks into this aspect of the matter so that a process of re-auctioning and consequent delay can be avoided,” the court said.
The next hearing will be held on November 9.