The Meghalaya High Court recently observed that it is necessary to call in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to monitor and stop the illegal activities pertaining to coal mining that is continuing in the State.

The Court said that a large-scale unscientific mining of coal in the State may lead to disastrous consequences.

The Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice H.S. Thangkhiew, and Justice W. Diengdoh noted, “In the current scenario and considering that the State has been afforded nearly a year to take appropriate measures and the measures adopted by the State have fallen woefully short, it is necessary to call in the Central Armed Police Forces to monitor and stop the illegal activities pertaining to coal mining that continues in the State.”

The Bench further noted that lack of education and alternative opportunities may have driven many in the State to exploit primary resources as timber and minerals and families may have been left in the lurch upon the unregulated and unscientific industry in either case being arrested.

“Dr. Mozika, learned Deputy-Solicitor General of India, who is present in Court, is requested to take notice on behalf of the Union and to inform this Court, when the matter appears a week hence as to the formalities for the immediate deployment of sufficient units of either the Central Industrial Security Force or the Central Reserve Police Force to completely take over the policing of illegal coal mining activities including the transportation thereof from the State machinery; obviously, at a cost that the State will have to bear for its abject inefficiency”, the Court asserted.

Advocate General A. Kumar represented the respondents in this case.

Facts –

Justice B.P. Katakey (retired) in his interim report revealed that an FIR was lodged at Ladrymbai Outpost of the Khliehriat police station and a case was registered last month. The Meghalaya High Court in April 2022 appointed Justice Katakey to head a committee to make recommendations on the measures to be taken by the State in compliance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) including the sale of already extracted coal.

The interim report filed by Justice Katakey referred to several cases being registered pertaining to illegal extraction of coal in the recent months. 31 cases were registered in December 2022 and January 2023. Despite high officials of the State, including the Chief Secretary, being summoned to Court and a contempt notice being issued against the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills district by the previous order in this matter, the illegal mining and illegal transportation of coal continued.

The State had earlier admitted that it had discovered 57 illegal coke plants operating in a particular area in a district. It was assured by the State to the Court that steps would be taken to dismantle the illegal machinery but awaited the Court’s further direction before undertaking the work that the State itself was obliged to take up.

The High Court in the above context asserted, “The kind of coal extraction that the locals here undertake is mainly by rat-hole mining where one or more persons dig a hole with barely enough space to crawl in and chip away the coal from the rockface to physically carry it out. Apart from the immediate risk of the roof of the hole caving in, such activity leaves gaping holes underground, ready to buckle in if there were to be an earthquake. Coupled with this is the presence of limestone underground or on rocksides.”

The Court further noted that with the abundance of rain in the region and limestone being prone to water erosion, there is a tragedy waiting to happen in the aftermath of the unscientific extraction of such coal and limestone, even as the State plays the proverbial fiddle.

“Without intending to sound apocalyptic or seeking to toll the knell of an imminent doomsday, it takes no rocket science to realise that the recipe is ripe for disaster. The pot is on the boil and it is brewing a calamitous broth. Yet the lure of a quick buck prompts the sentinel to look the other way”, said the Court.

The Court also directed the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills to show cause why punishment for contempt, including detention in jail, should not be suffered by him for the flagrant violation of orders of the Court to check the illegal menace of unscientific coal mining rampant all over the hills and the illegal transportation thereof.

The Court, therefore, listed the matter on February 14, 2023.

Cause Title- In Re: (Suo Motu): Illegal mining of coal in the State of Meghalaya v. State of Meghalaya

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