The Assembly could only clear two questions during Question Hour today due to a heated argument between Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma and the opposition Congress Party on the contentious issue of mining, auctioning and transportation of coal in Meghalaya.
Two points were raised by opposition legislator Zenith M Sangma: why the amount of extracted coal declared by the government was increased from 23 lakh tonnes to 32 lakh tonnes and whether the declared 32 lakh tonnes was “practically” present.
“The people want to know whether the 32 lakh tonnes declared as inventory before the Supreme Court by this present government is practically present or not,” Zenith said.
Conrad scored a point in his answer, replying that it was during the previous Congress-led state government that the level of 32 lakh tonnes of coal was fixed upon in 2014-15.
“Why did he (Zenith) not question the declaration back then when he was a minister in the government?” Conrad asked. “This 32 lakh tonnes was not created by us, it was in 2015, during their (Congress’) time, so why are you blaming us? You created the stock. If you had any doubt, why didn’t you raise it that time?”
However, this argument still does not answer the doubts raised by leader of the opposition and former Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma, that there really is 32 lakh tonnes of coal lying in Meghalaya. Dr Sangma has stated publicly that he believes vast amounts of extracted coal have been illegally transported before auction, allowing for coal barons to replace this coal with that which has been newly, and illegally, mined.
Conrad today reminded Zenith that the Supreme Court had approved the figure of 32 lakh tonnes, which had been brought down from the coal miners’ claim in 2014 of 1.3 crore tonnes. He reiterated the government’s argument that auctioning off the coal is taking time because of the instructions issued by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal as well as legislative requirements.
With regards to illegal mining and transportation, the CM said that such activities have been occurring since the ban on rat-hole mining was imposed in 2014; 400 cases have been filed against illegal mining and transportation of coal since 2018 and there have been almost 2,000 in the past five years, he said.
The guilty can be jailed for five years and face a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh, Conrad told the house, adding that his government has sought to stem the tide of illegal coal-related activity by offering a cash reward for whistleblowers.