War of words over SC Judgment

The Supreme Court judgment of July 3 is significant in that it recognizes the inalienable rights of tribals of Meghalaya over land and resources, under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. However, that ownership does not imply that the owner has absolute rights to exploit minerals and other resources as if there is no tomorrow. The apex court stresses on responsible and judicious mining of coal and other minerals keeping through strict regulations as laid down in the MMDR Act, 1957, the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, and the Environmental Protection Act 1986. All three were Acts and Rules that were completely disregarded by the owners of private mines that operated without any accountability or permission from any quarters and therefore assumed that they owned the very planet. Mere ownership of land and resources does not vest the owner with the right to exploit those resources indiscriminately and injudiciously to the point of polluting the rivers, the air and with utter disregard for human safety including the safety of the miners who work under precarious conditions. Have the illegal mine owners forgotten the number of lives lost on account of mine flooding or mine collapse?

The apex court has at last made it clear that mining in the rat-hole format is no longer permissible because it does not comply with the aforesaid regulations that are applied across the country. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution does not exempt the State from important Acts and Rules applied nationally, more so because Para 12 (A) of the Sixth Schedule clearly states that, whenever there is a conflict of interest between the District Councils and the State Legislature, the latter would prevail. This Clause was inserted in 1972 after Meghalaya was granted statehood, because the legislators then were conscious of the fact that the ADCs could overstep their briefs and disregard their larger constitutional duties. It is ironic that a different set of legislators in the 21st century (2015) under the MUA-2 Government should pass an Assembly resolution seeking a Presidential notification to exempt Meghalaya, from the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1957. Fortunately this never received Presidential assent because the only objective of the Government then was to give complete autonomy to illegal mining of coal, merely because politics is so reliant on coal money. Hence the war of words between the Congress-led MUA and the MDA Government over the SC ruling is unnecessary. Both sides seem to have taken positions only on behalf of the illegal coal mine owners without any concern for citizens and their rights to a clean environment and the right to life of miners.

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