Take help from Assam police to arrest Kingpins of illegal coal mining: Meghalaya HC

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Shillong, July 14: The Meghalaya High Court on Thursday asked the Meghalaya government to seek the assistance of the Assam police to arrest the “kingpins” who are involved in the illegal coal mining in Meghalaya.

Hearing a PIL on the matter, the full bench said that it appears that the miners operating in the state are small-time operators and the entire operations are controlled by kingpins who may not be in the state.

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It is for such reasons that it had indicated earlier that an investigation into the illegal activities may be directed to be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“However, if the State is serious in dealing with the issue, it is possible for the State police to obtain the assistance and cooperation of the Assam police to launch a combined operation not only to arrest the illegality but also to ensure that the exploitation of the small miners in the state cannot be continued by operators functioning from elsewhere,” the bench said in its order.

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“In such regard, the State will obtain such information as may be available with the individual petitioners in the connected matters, including names and details of alleged or perceived kingpins and seek the assistance of the Assam police to bring the matter to a logical conclusion,” it added.

The bench further directed that both the state and the Assam police will ensure that the petitioners in the connected matters or others who have sought to intervene in the related proceedings to indicate the state of affairs and the extent of illegality being perpetrated, come to no harm.

On the issues of people losing their livelihoods due to the sudden stoppage of the coal mining operations, the bench said it was for the State to have taken appropriate steps to provide alternative sources of livelihood to its people, just as it was the State’s obligation under the Constitution to ensure that  orders passed by the Supreme Court that had attained finality were carried out without any breach.

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“Indeed, due to the State’s inaction in disposing of the previously illegally-mined coal, it allowed freshly-mined coal to be dumped on the roadsides and attempted to be passed off as the previously-mined coal.”

The bench also said that further, coke oven plants mushroomed all over the State and the transportation of the illegally-mined coal was rampant and was plain to view for anyone who took to the State or the National highways in the State.

It said it appears that pursuant to the State inviting applications for scientific mining to be undertaken here or pursuant to applications made by certain entities for scientific mining, the relevant papers were forwarded by the State and some form of approval in certain cases have been granted by the appropriate authorities. However, it is the State’s submission that scientific mining of coal is yet to start, though feasibility studies and the like may have already been undertaken.

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“It may do well for the State to encourage cooperative bodies to be formed by small miners so that collectively they can afford to obtain the requisite permission for scientific mining and, thereupon, the State can guide such cooperative bodies to ensure that scientific mining is conducted by them by adhering to all statutory and environmental concerns and parameters,” the bench said adding, “It is hoped that in adopting such an approach, the State will both ensure that the revenue due to it on account of mining is not lost and that the livelihoods lost by those engaged in coal-mining is restored. However, at the end of the day, it is a matter of policy on which the State has to take a call.”

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