Just five days after coal transport was permitted out of South Garo Hills, the ugly head of an illegal gate, sanctioned by the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), where a ‘tax’ is imposed on each coal truck has once again surfaced, putting the entire exercise in jeopardy.
Late in 2019 there had been a massive uproar after civilians took over the collection of fines from overloaded trucks from the Transport and Directorate of Mineral Resources, leading to an inquiry that sought more to protect those that had been named than to catch the culprits. The result of the exercise was a loss of over Rs 52 lakh in revenue in just a single night.
Similarly, even during the period earlier this year when the High Court of Meghalaya had allowed transportation in order to clear the roads of parked coal trucks, similar collections were taking place, allegedly inside government offices by a private individual who had no authority to even be present in the first place.
This time, after the district administration permitted transportation of auctioned coal for 30 days, various sections reported that not only were there illegal collections to the tune of Rs 7,000 per truck, but an illegal check gate, authorized by the GHADC Secretary, Rikse Marak, had sprung up.
“As per the order being cited by the collectors, no authorization has been given to the lessee, identified as Sanjay A Sangma from Hawakhana, Tura, to collect money from coal trucks. The order allows collections from the Wage Asi (in North Garo Hills) Coal Market. Incidentally there has never been a coal market in the village, which renders the entire gate illegal,” said the Congress MLA from Mendipathar, Marthon J Sangma.
The matter was brought to the notice of the MLA after a pressure group from Dainadubi in North Garo Hills, the Garo State Movement Committee (GSMC), informed him of the matter. The collectors at the gate are illegally extorting Rs 500 per truck when they do not have the authority to do so, it is alleged.
The MLA said he was surprised as to how such illegal acts are being allowed by the district administration when there are clear court instructions that prohibit the setting up of any illegal check gates on National Highway 62. This order was given after the matter was raised by coal miners in the High Court.
While he was livid at what he said was the inaction by the police and the district administration, his anger was further directed at the GHADC for allowing the setting up of the gate in the first place and, that too, just before the council’s Executive Committee had been disbanded.
“The order says that the gate has been authorized by the EC on October 16 when the MDCs were clearly on the way out. So how could the Secretary allow such an order to be passed by her hand in the first place?” he asked.
North Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner NP Marak was unavailable for comment on this story, with phone calls and messages going unanswered.
Despite demanding that action be taken against the “blatant circumvention of the law”, Marthon is not expecting too much to happy, saying, “these people are likely to be let off as they enjoy the backing of those in power.”