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High-level panel rendered dysfunctional

By Our Reporter

 Shillong: In view of the July 2011 verdict of the Supreme Court vis-à-vis Lafarge cements on the issue of mining in ‘deemed’ forest land, the High-Level Committee constituted by the State as per directives of the Empowered Committee (EC) set up by the apex court earlier has now become redundant.

The High-Level Committee was earlier constituted to probe whether cement plants in Jaintia Hills district are located in forest lands. But Forest and Environment Minister Prestone Tynsong maintains that the findings of the Committee are still very useful.

“I do not think the exercise of the Committee is futile since its recommendations would be taken as vital inputs even if they are not taken as the final judgement,” Tynsong said on Thursday. He further said that the State Government would still play an important role in determining whether the land used for sourcing limestone is a non-forest area or otherwise.

“As per the latest judgement of the Supreme Court, if the project proponent makes a claim regarding status of land being non-forest and if there is any doubt, the site shall be inspected by the State Forest department along with the regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to ascertain the status of forests, based on which the certificate in this regard be issued,” Tynsong said.

It may be mentioned that on November 1, the Supreme Court Empowered Committee had written to the State Government stating that there was no purpose in having the Committee in view of the guidelines issued by the apex court in the landmark judgment related to limestone mining in East Khasi Hills by Lafarge.

However, it appears that the Supreme Court Empowered Committee (EC) has contradicted itself as the high-level committee constituted on March 2 this year was done so on the basis of a directive issued by the EC to the State Government.

The directive came in January. The high-level committee was formed to carry out a fresh appraisal of land being utilised by the cement companies in Jaintia Hills.

It was also mandated to examine whether the allegations that the area is under “deemed forest land” is being used by each of the plants and their mining areas. The Committee is expected to submit its findings on November 14.

Initially, VK Nautiyal, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, headed the committee. Later, Principal Secretary KS Kropha was asked to lead the team, but was recently replaced by JP Prakash, the newly-appointed Principal Secretary (Mining and Geology).

Official sources said that in view of the Supreme Court guidelines, the purpose of the high-level committee has come into question, and that any agency constituted by the government, which is outside the ambit of the apex court guidelines, is redundant.

It is learnt that the State Government is still studying the letter from the EC before taking a final decision.

Till date, around eight cement companies are operating in Jaintia Hills, and these include Cement Manufacturing Company Limited, Meghalaya Cement Limited, Jaintia Cement, JUD Cement, Green Valley Cement, Hills Cement, Amrit Cement and Adhunik Cement.

The youth wing of the NCP had earlier alleged that most of these companies were located in forest areas and are openly flouting environmental norms.

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