The modus operandi of transporters of illegal coal was put beyond doubt in the early hours today after a 12-wheel lorry that was ostensibly carrying a cargo of coke overturned in Garo Hills, revealing a massive haul of contraband coal that was hidden underneath a few bags of coke.
The truck that overturned near Sarangma, North Garo Hills, was allegedly carrying over 40 tonnes of coal, with a few tonnes of coke to disguise this fact. The vehicle was apparently coming from Shallang in West Khasi Hills and was headed towards Goalpara in Assam when it lost control and keeled over after midnight today.
An FIR was filed with the North Garo Hills Superintendent of Police by one Rahul Marak of the Garoland State Movement Committee and George Sangma of the Garo Indigenous Development Federation in the afternoon.
The two pressure groups said that such a modus operandi allowed the coal mafia to cause a huge loss to the state’s exchequer by illegally transporting coal out of Meghalaya. They also sought action against overloaded trucks, like the Assam-registered one involved in the accident, which are damaging the roads and highways.
“They are making a mockery of the NGT (National Green Tribunal, which laid down strict guidelines on coal mining) while cheating the state. This is also encouraging the coal mafia to operate freely within the state in transporting coal while literally paying nothing as royalty or taxes,” alleged the NGOs.
This lorry and two others following behind were seized by police. The other two were also found to be carrying coal.
“A case has been registered in the matter and the issue is being investigated. Earlier trucks were not being physically checked properly but strict instructions have now been given that all such coke trucks be completely checked to find out what they are carrying. The matter is being taken very seriously,” said the SP, Abraham T Sangma, when contacted.
While coal requires a challan (p-form) to be transported and incurs about Rs 1,400 as taxes per tonne. Coke, on the other hand, which is a product of coal, only pays GST of around Rs 2,400 per truck (carrying loads of over 22 tonnes).
A police source on the condition of anonymity said that the accident today will be a blessing in disguise. “Now the administration will have the right to ensure all such trucks are checked and the racket can be nipped in the bud. This is excellent news for us,” said the source.
Reacting to the incident, district resident Bappun Sangma said, “We are surprised that there have not been thorough checks on what was happening. The authorities meant to inspect these trucks seem to have forgotten their duties. Who will pay for the huge amount of losses that the state has incurred because some of them were either lazy or scared of authorities? This makes no sense.”
According to local sources, more than 30 such trucks were using the route to transport coal under the guise of coke on a daily basis. Each truck, while never weighed, allegedly carried over 40 tonnes of coal. Shallang has over 20 coke factories, several of which have fallen foul of environmental regulations.