The Meghalaya High Court has finally put an end to the misuse of the minor mineral license for export of limestone from Meghalaya to Bangladesh.
In a judgement passed on November 24, the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Wanlura Diengdoh said that if the purpose of quarrying or mining limestone is for export, a major mineral licence has to be obtained for the purpose after complying with all formalities.
“The State cannot subvert the mechanism put in place by a law of Parliament by openly allowing limestone to be mined or quarried under a minor mineral licence for it to be ultimately exported,” the High Court observed.
According to the High Court, limestone would be a minor mineral only if used in kilns for manufacture of lime used as a building material.
The court also said that when limestone is permitted to be quarried or mined under a minor mineral licence in the State, the State government is now required to keep a strict vigil on the end-use thereof and ensure that no part of the limestone is exported in any manner or form.
While disposing of the PIL filed by Lawyerson War, the High Court directed the State government to not allow the export of limestone that is mined or quarried by persons under a minor mineral licence by obtaining regular end-use certificates from the licensees, verifying the same and presenting annual reports in such regard for cross-verification by the office of the Accountant-General under the aegis of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India.
“This process will continue for the next ten years unless interdicted by an express order of a competent court,” the High Court said.
The High Court also imposed a fine of Rs 2 crore on the State government as damages for issuing minor mineral licences for limestone used for export. The court directed that the amount will go towards the purchase of additional equipment for cancer treatment at the specialised unit installed at the Shillong Civil Hospital.
The court asked the Accountant-General to audit and verify the purchase of equipment exclusively from the amount of damages awarded and not from funds that may otherwise be made available by the State to the cancer unit. It also said that such money has to be put in by the end of January, 2023.
In view of the State’s affidavits indicating that the loopholes that had arisen after the introduction of Rule 2(u) in the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 2016 have been plugged, the High Court also directed the State government to ensure that large scale limestone “incidentally” extracted is not dealt with without reference to the State.
“The State should indicate, by formulating a rule in such regard, specifying a much lower threshold of, say, up to 50 MT of minor mineral being ‘incidentally’ extracted; but any quantum in excess thereof, even if it is ‘incidentally’ extracted, would have to be made over to the State for the State to deal with the same in accordance with law,” the court said.
“At the end of the day, the State is in the position of a trustee protecting the natural resources of the State in the interest of its people and for their benefit. The rule would apply more strictly in this State almost completely governed by the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution where the land and the resources under the land have been recognised to be the property of the tribes and its tribal folk. The State has a duty to ensure the preservation of a precious natural resource for future generations rather than exhaust the entire deposits over one or two Assembly terms,” the High Court said.