Mining ban to continue in Meghalaya

NGT scraps committee under R.P. Marak for non-compliance of order

Meghalaya Police commandos block the entrace to the High Court of Meghalaya while the NGT hearing on
mining ban was in progress inside the court on Friday. (ST)

SHILLONG: The National Green Tribunal on Friday decided to carry on with the ban on coal mining in Meghalaya while also forming a new committee to decide on the transportation of extracted coal lying in coal quarries and depots after the committee submits its report after two weeks.

The earlier committee was aborted by the NGT as it had failed to fulfill the entrusted task of assessment of extracted coal and other measures.

While scrapping the committee headed by Director of Mines, R.P. Marak, for failing to comply with its directive, the NGT Special Circuit Bench of the Eastern Zone directed the State Government to constitute a fresh committee to complete the task of the previous committee.

The State Government has been asked to constitute a fresh committee within a week’s time which would be entrusted with the task of completing the job assigned to the earlier committee in another week’s time.

The new committee will comprise of MS Rao, IAS, Kuljit Singh Kropha, IAS, a Senior Scientist of the Central Pollution Board who has not been deputed to any of the North Eastern states, Member Secretary of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and an IIT Professor to be nominated by the Director of IIT, Guwahati having expertise in mining activities.

“The committee cannot be permitted to carry forward its functions since it has failed to comply with the directives of the Tribunal. The committee has done nothing which has led to serious economic losses to the State besides failing to protect the ecology,” NGO Chairman Justice Swatanter Kumar said while reading the order.

Expressing strong reservation over performance of the committee, Justice Kumar observed that the committee showed scant respect to the orders of the Tribunal.

The Tribunal stated that the new committee should provide detailed comprehensive guidelines related to removal and transportation of extracted coal.

“The comprehensive guidelines should be uploaded on the Meghalaya government website and circulated to the deputy commissioners, superintendent of police of various districts and mining organisations within two week’s time,” the Tribunal stated.

Meanwhile, the Tribunal also took note of the claims of Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited that its paper mill has been affected due to shortage of coal following the ban on coal mining in Meghalaya and a petition submitted by the North Eastern Electric Corporation Limited which stated that its turbines in the Kupli hydro electric project has been corroded as the water in the reservoir had turned acidic caused by coal mining in Jaintia Hills and production of power was minimized and stopped.

Pointing out that the large-scale unscientific rat-hole mining has not only affected the environment and ecology including rivers and streams and ground water, but is also turning the ground water and rivers acidic as had been confirmed from water samples collected and tested by the Central and Meghalaya Pollution Control boards.

Referring to the argument that ban on coal mining has affected the economic interest of the State, the Tribunal said, “Article 21 of the Constitution gives predominance to Right to Life over any other interests including economic interest. We find no merit whatsoever as the issue has been raised for the sake of economic interest rather than caring for protection of the environment and constitutional rights of the citizens.”

The NGT observed that the primary concern of the Tribunal was the protection of the environment and ecology besides safety of human beings.

“It is undisputed before us that huge extracted coal is lying in the depots in and around the mining sites.

The extracted coal assessed by the committee is worth Rs.1,800 crore,” the Tribunal said, adding, “At this stage, the figure of extracted coal would be taken as per the assessment by the committee. The State can earn revenue from transportation of extracted coal while individuals can earn from sale of extracted coal. Transportation of coal should be strictly adhered to as per the order of the Tribunal passed on June 9.”

Reacting to Friday’s hearing, Government legal counsel and Supreme Court lawyer Ranjan Mukherjee said that according to the assessment carried out by the earlier committee, the quantity of extracted coal is 3.73 million metric ton while eight million metric ton extracted coal could not be identified and assessed.

“Transportation of 3.73 million metric ton of extracted coal will be permitted subject to clearance given by the new committee,” Mukherjee said.

Meanwhile, senior Supreme Court lawyer Raj Panjwani said that the Tribunal has rightly and correctly changed the committee.

On the transportation of the extracted coal, Panjwani said, “You have the liberty to remove it which is subject to certain conditions which are ecological consideration and has got nothing to do with exterior motives.”

The Tribunal in its earlier hearing on June 9 had also clearly mentioned that the Government should keep aside the amount which it is expected to earn from royalties through transportation of the extracted coal for carrying out activities to restore the various areas where there is mass destruction to the environment due to coal mining activities.

The Tribunal fixed its next hearing on October 7.