As a silent onlooker to the rampant destruction of mother earth by people who care not for the environment and future generation, we wholeheartedly welcome the Supreme Court judgment on 3rd July 2019 vis-à-vis the coal mining issue in Meghalaya. In this connection I wish to quote Chandra Bhushan’s prophetic article in, “Down To Earth,” February issue, of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. His article ‘Out of the legal hole’ began with a headline, “There is no such thing as environmentally acceptable and safe rat-hole coal mining and hence this primitive practice must be discontinued.” In 2011 during the course of his visit to the state’s mining hotspots, this was what he has to say, “What we found most galling was the impunity with which the laws were being broken. None of the rat hole mines had leases; they simply did not exist on paper. All of them were operating without any environment clearance from the environment ministry or from the Pollution Control Board. These illegalities were enabled by the so-called legal ambiguity regarding mining in Sixth Schedule areas as mentioned in the Constitution.
Bhushan adds, “We were informed that as Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule state and the powers to make laws with respect to land belong to the Autonomous District Councils, land owners can mine without any permission from the State or the Union government. To bolster the argument, it was alluded that the coal mines in Meghalaya were never nationalised. We however found that the coal mines of Khasi and Jaintia were nationalised under the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act 1973.We also found that paragraph 9 of the Sixth Schedule clearly stipulates the need for licences or leases for the purpose of prospecting or extraction of minerals. In addition we legally established that all central mining and environmental laws are applicable to the coal mines in Meghalaya. We prepared detailed reports and held meetings in Shillong and Tura about the need to enforce the mining and environmental norms. But nothing happened. However we knew that it was only a matter of time before these illegalities would be exposed…The political class supports these mines. The state govt. has challenged the NGT ban in the Supreme Court and the State Assembly in 2015 adopted a resolution urging the Centre to exempt Meghalaya from central laws so that rat-hole mining can continue. But such mines are environmentally damaging and unsafe to be allowed and hence must be banned. The bottom line is the right to self-governance does not translate into the right to destroy the environment even in the Sixth Schedule areas.”
While all sections of society hailed the Supreme Court judgment, the political class and the coal barons should hang their heads in shame. Had it not been for the petition filed by the All Dimasa Students Union and Dima Hasao District Committee in the NGT we would have continued to see the wanton destruction of the environment to this day. We should thank them for doing this immeasurable favour to the state of Meghalaya. In all this, where are the so-called NGOs and student unions who cried hoarse from roof tops to protect the land and its people (Ka Ri bad ka Jaidbynriew)?
The next course of action is for civil society and environmentalists to see that the mining loby here adheres to the prescribed regulations, namely the MMDR Act 1957, the Mineral Concession Rules 1960, and the Environment Protection Act 1986. Watch out. We have experienced umpteen times how money power can play its role to bend and circumvent the rules and laws.