The Meghalaya High Court, in a suo motu case pertaining to the illegal mining of coal, directed the State to file a status report on all three aspects of the issue: illegal mining of coal, transportation of illegally-mined coal, and operation of illegal coke plants, within a fortnight.

The State had contended that the timber industry has been almost dismantled and mining had been a traditional way for tribals in the state to earn a living. However, the Court held that it is the State's responsibility to provide alternative sources of livelihood for its people since it has an obligation to uphold the orders of the Supreme Court about illegal mining.

The one excuse that has come up over and over again is that upon the timber industry being almost dismantled, mining operations that have been traditionally undertaken by the tribals in the State allowed some form of livelihood; but the sudden stoppage of the coal-mining operations led to a lot of people losing their livelihoods and, as such, such persons were forced to continue with it despite the prohibition imposed…It was for the State to have taken appropriate steps to provide alternative sources of livelihood to its people, just as it was the State’s obligation under the Constitution to ensure that orders passed by the Supreme Court that had attained finality were carried out without any breach”, the High Court held.

The Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and comprising of Justice H. S. Thangkhiew and Justice W. Diengdoh observed, “As of now, since it appears that the State is dealing with the illegal operation of coke plants in right earnest or so it is submitted, no immediate order is passed and all matters, including the present one pertaining to illegal mining of coal, the transportation of such illegally mined coal and the operation of illegal coke plants will stand over for three weeks. The State should file a status report on all three aspects through the Secretary in the Mining Department within a fortnight from date”.

The Court further instructed the State to launch a combined operation with Assam Police to arrest the individuals involved in illegal activities and to prevent small miners in the State from being taken advantage of by operators functioning from elsewhere. In this context, the Bench noted, “However, if the State is serious in dealing with the issue, it is possible for the State police to obtain the assistance and cooperation of the Assam police to launch a combined operation not only to arrest the illegality but also to ensure that the exploitation of the small miners in the State cannot be continued by operators functioning from elsewhere”.

Advocate General A. Kumar along with Additional Advocate General K. Khan appeared for the State. Deputy Solicitor General N. Mozika appeared for the Union and Senior Advocates B. Dutta and M.Z. Ahmed appeared for Coal India Limited.

The Court observed, “At the end of the day, the purpose for instituting the suo motu proceedings was to ensure that the State acted in accordance with the orders of the Supreme Court upholding the prohibition of mining of coal in the State other than by the scientific process in accordance with the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957”.

Additionally, the Court ordered both the State and the Assam police to hold the duty of safeguarding and preserving the security and welfare of the petitioners who are involved in the interconnected cases. The Court held, “Both the State and the Assam police will ensure that the petitioners in the connected matters or others who have sought to intervene in the related proceedings to indicate the state of affairs and the extent of illegality being perpetrated, come to no harm”.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for August 8.

Cause Title: In Re: (Suo motu): Illegal Mining of Coal in the State of Meghalaya

Click here to read/download Order