The Meghalaya High Court today said that it is evident that the State government “continues to play fast and loose with the court” on the issue of illegal mining of coal.
The full bench of the High Court today took up the progress made in the auction of the coal that was mined prior to the imposition of the ban by the National Green Tribunal as upheld by the Supreme Court.
The court also examined the ninth report filed by Justice B P Katakey (retired), who has been appointed to implement the directions issued by the NGT and the Supreme Court.
“Apart from certain procedural matters and the amendments to the standard operating procedure earlier set, the report reveals a serious issue from which it is evident that the State continues to play fast and loose with the court,” the High Court observed.
In course of re-verifying and reassessing the quantity of coal that had been mined prior to the prohibition and that had to be auctioned, the Chief Secretary to the State has stated in a report of September 20, 2022 that 32,56,715 MT of coal was available for auction.
The status after further verification, as indicated in the latest report filed by Justice Katakey, is that prior to the imposition of the ban the total quantity of coal available was 19,54,258.816 MT. This includes East Jaintia Hills (8,90,670 MT), West Khasi Hills (3,86,253 MT), South Garo Hills (3,77,790 MT), South West Khasi Hills (2,99,545.816 MT).
“What is apparent is that in addition to the previously illegally mined coal measuring approximately 19,54,259 MT a further 13 lakh MT of coal was illegally mined, transported and discovered which the State sought to pass off as coal mined prior to the imposition of the ban. There is, no doubt, further amounts of coal, in addition to the total quantity of 32.56 lakh MT as indicated in the Chief Secretary’s report of September 20, 2022,” the High Court said.
For such a purpose, Justice Katakey has suggested drone videography and a meeting in this regard was held on December 2. The High Court said that the directions issued by Justice Katakey should be adhered to.
Another point which finds mention in the report is the information furnished by the Secretary, Mining and Geology Department that a large number of coke oven plants and ferro alloys plants are operating in the State but only a limited few have both ‘consent to establish’ and ‘consent to operate’ granted by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board.
“Apart from the fact that several coke oven and ferro-alloys plants are operational without due permission, the source of coal at these plants has neither been identified nor reported by the State government. This has to be immediately done and both the Secretary in the Mining and Geology Department and the Chief Secretary will be responsible in such regard,” the High Court said.
The State government told the court that the processes of transportation and auction of the previously mined coal are continuing as per the timelines indicated by the government. However, the State government said that since an additional direction was issued by Justice Katakey to fit the vehicles transporting the coal with GPS devices, the process has taken some time.
“The vehicles have now been fitted with the appropriate device and it is expected that by the end of December, 2022, the bar-chart in such regard would be adhered to,” the court said.
“As to the transportation and auction of the previously mined coal, the exercise should proceed as planned. The directions issued by Justice Katakey should be adhered to and the drone videography and photography that Justice Katakey has suggested should be completed without undue delay. The remainder of the coal out of the approximately 32,56,715 MT of coal as indicated in the Chief Secretary’s report of September 20, 2022 has also to be auctioned since that is illegally mined. Justice Katakey will oversee the transportation and sale of even such part of the coal and any further quantity that may be seized by the State as a consequence of the illegal mining that continues,” the High Court added.