The Meghalaya High Court has directed the state Chief Secretary to ensure that illegal mining activities are stopped without delay and a committee free from political interference be set up to monitor the implementation of Supreme Court's directions and recommendations on the issue.

The three-judge full bench of the High Court comprising of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice H. S. Thangkhiew and Justice W. Diengdoh took up the matter after its recent visit to East Jaintia Hills district along with Chief Secretary R V Suchiang to see in person the situation in connection with illegal mining activities in the area.

"Reports have been filed by the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police indicating that some actions have been taken. However, it is evident that the directions issued by the Supreme Court have not been adhered to ... It is necessary to monitor the mining activities," the Court said in its order passed on Monday.

" is surprising that the state did not use drone photography to monitor the mining activities in the less accessible areas", the Court said and came down heavily on the district administration, the magistrates, sub-divisional officers and officers at the block level along with their counterparts from the police.

"...all of them turned a Nelson's eye to such illegal activities. It can be safely said that the scene in and around Khliehriat speaks of the vast stretches there being beyond the purview of the administration. It is impossible that the illegal mining activities and the deposit of freshly mined coal would be conducted with such impunity without the possible connivance of the local administration or even worse", the Bench said in its order.

Directing the Chief Secretary to deal specifically with each of the directions and recommendations of the Supreme Court and the NGT, the Bench directed her to file a report during the next hearing on April 4.

The Court said that the state has done "precious little" to ensure transportation of coal that had been previously mined and the auction thereof through Coal India Limited as per the directions of the Supreme Court and the NGT. This, it said, resulted in the "present unacceptable scenario".

The three judges who visited Khliehriat and its nearby areas last week found heaps of freshly dug coal left on both sides of the road spanning tens of kilometers.

The coal looked to be obviously freshly mined as it was shiny black The ground is riddled with rigs and tell-tale signs of mining activities and recently constructed hutments. Even along the stretch, for tens of miles, freshly mined coal is dumped on both sides of the road in plain view, the order said.

It said that it appeared that the practice is rampant and may be more intense in areas which are not easily accessible going by the illegal activities only around the Khliehriat region.

The orders passed by the NGT need to be followed and the recommendations made by the committee set up by the NGT, several of which have been expressly approved by the Supreme Court, have to be implemented, the Bench said and asking the chief secretary to file the compliance report.

The Nation Green Tribunal had ordered that rat hole mining and the transportation of mined material will remain prohibited. The monitoring committee constituted by it was to supervise issues arising out of receivership/custodianship of already extracted coal, including environmental issues arising out storage and remedial steps.

The Apex Court allowed coal mining operations in Meghalaya on privately and community owned land subject to permissions from the concerned authorities.

Click here to read/download Order

With PTI inputs