The Meghalaya High Court has sought a report from Chief Secretary Donald P. Wahlang regarding departmental action taken against government officials of West Khasi Hills who failed to act against 57 illegal coke factories in the district.
The division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Wanlura Diengdoh passed the order today while hearing the PIL filed by one Munu Kumar.
“The Chief Secretary will file a report at the first sitting of the court on February 3, 2023 as to the action taken against the erring officials, including notices of suspension, initiation of departmental proceedings, sequestration of assets and the like for the flagrant operation of illegal coke plants. The Chief Secretary will carry the report to the court and will remain personally liable for any illegal mining of coal or illegal operation of any coke plant in the State,” the High Court said.
Stating that the remainder of the matter will be considered after receipt of the Chief Secretary’s report, the High Court also asked the Registrar-General to ensure that a copy of the order is served on the Chief Secretary immediately. The next hearing on the matter will be held on February 3.
The High Court was unhappy with the affidavit filed on behalf of the Deputy Commissioner, West Khasi Hills on January 27, 2023 regarding the steps taken to close down the coke plants.
“It is completely unacceptable to this court that a State government or its officials would be unaware of as many as 57 coke plants functioning in a clandestine manner during the night for such illegal plants to be shut down only pursuant to orders passed by this court upon receipt of a public interest litigation. It is the bounden duty of the State to ensure that no activity that requires a licence is carried on without the licence being obtained. Indeed, the State’s stand on the entire issue of illegal mining of coal and functioning of illegal coke plants has been less than satisfactory and, at the highest, equivocal,” the High Court said.
The court also pulled up the State government for having a role in illegal coal mining and in the operation of illegal coke plants.
“It is a matter of crying shame that despite orders of the Supreme Court, no less, a state of anarchy is brought about by the State government by flouting such orders and apparently actively aiding in the illegal mining of coal and the functioning of coke plants without licence in the State. The rampant functioning of illegal coke plants leads to the obvious inference of rampant illegal mining of coal in the State despite the State government’s assurance to the contrary,” it said.
Further, the High Court mentioned that earlier today, a fresh petition has been received pertaining to illegal mining of coal “continuing merrily” in South Garo Hills.
It may be noted that the affidavit filed on behalf of the Deputy Commissioner, West Khasi Hills stated that an order dated December 16, 2022 was issued for taking immediate steps to shut down all illegal coke plants operating in West Khasi Hills district.
“In the ensuing raids, it was found that there were coke plants operating during night in the remote areas clandestinely,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit also stated that the coke plant units were immediately shut down and the raw coal and finished product in the form of coke found on the site has been seized in-situ, and its quantity is being determined per plant-wise.
“Upon determination of quantity the coal and finished coke shall be confiscated and disposed of in accordance with law as per Section 21 of the MMDR Act, 1957. In addition thereto the equipment found on site have also been confiscated and which shall also be seized and proceeded with in accordance with law. Since, the quantity of the material seized required some time for transportation to some government depot, it has been seized at the site and is presently lying on site under custody of the district administration and shall be transported after determination of quantity in due course of time. Closure notice has been pasted on each of the 57 coke plants and an FIR has also been filed at Shallang Police Station,” the affidavit said.
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