The Meghalaya High Court today said that the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police of Meghalaya will be held accountable if any form of illegally mined coal is henceforth discovered in the State.
The full bench of the High Court gave the order after the State government filed a report dated October 17, 2022 incorporating a notification dated October 13, 2022 issued by the Mining and Geology Department indicating the revised comprehensive plan for handing over the extracted coal to Coal India Limited for auction.
The notification runs into nearly 30 pages and includes several chapters.
“The Director-General of Police will instruct all Superintendents of Police 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 Superintendents of Police 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,” the High Court warned.
The High Court also directed the Chief Secretary, the Director-General of Police and all other police personnel to ensure strict compliance in this regard and not to “bow to any political interference in the matter”.
The notification also covered the aspects to ensure that fresh illegally mined coal is not mixed up with the previously mined coal and passed off as such.
The second chapter of the notification covers the procedure of transportation of the extracted coal. The third chapter details a scheme for the sale of the extracted coal through spot and e-auction. This chapter covers the bidding process and the procedure for delivery of coal.
As per the notification, the entire previously mined coal is scheduled to be disposed of by the end of 2023.
The High Court also directed the State government and its officials to ensure that the disposal of the previously mined coal is completed sooner rather than later.
“It is hoped that the timelines indicated and the methodology suggested would be adhered to without any fail and the secretary in the Mining and Geology Department of the State along with the Chief Secretary to the State will remain responsible for strict adherence to the terms indicated in the notification of October 13, 2022,” the High Court said.
It also asked Coal India Limited and MSTC Ltd to render adequate assistance and immediately report to Justice Katakey in the event of any failure on the part of the State government to adhere to the timelines or terms or any impediment being brought in the way of the early and quick disposal of the previously mined coal.
The High Court said that Justice Katakey will continue to monitor the process on a periodic basis and all information sought should be provided to him by the State government, Coal India Limited and MSTC.
During the hearing, Dr N Mozika who appeared on behalf of the Coal India Limited, told the High Court that the commercial terms for the auction of the mined coal has not been appropriately fixed. He also 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. His suggestion is that if the quantum of earnest deposit is substantially raised, serious parties will be in the fray and the process may be expedited.
On this, the High Court requested Justice Katakey to look into this aspect of the matter so that a process of re-auctioning and consequent delay can be avoided.
The court has fixed November 9 for the next hearing of the matter to ascertain both the progress made in terms of the notification dated October 13, 2022 and the measures taken by the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police to completely stop all forms of illegal mining of coal in the State.