Meghalaya High Court on Tuesday came down hard on the administration and directed the state Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to not bow to any political interference while implementing its order to completely arrest illegal coal mining in the state.

Advocate General A. Kumar, DSGI Dr N. Mozika, Senior Advocates S.P. Mahanta and M.Z. Ahmed appeared for the Respondents.

The Bench of Cheif Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice H. S. Thangkhiew and Justice W. Diengdoh warned that the Chief Secretary and the DGP will be held accountable if any form of illegally mined coal is henceforth found in the state.

It directed the DGP to instruct all superintendents of police in the state to ensure that "not an ounce of illegally mined coal" is allowed to pass whether in trucks or other vehicles to other states.

"The Chief Secretary, the Director-General of Police and all other police personnel will ensure strict compliance in such regard and will not bow to any political interference in the matter", the Court said.

"The Superintendents of Police in all districts in the State are put on notice that if illegally mined coal in the State is found to have originated in or passed through their jurisdiction, they shall be held in contempt" the Court warned.

The Court said that apart from the dangerous rat hole mining in the eastern part of the state, there are reports that illegally mined coal is smuggled out of Meghalaya and then returned for apparent export to a neighbouring country on the basis of fabricated documents to suggest that the mineral originated in some other state.

Besides, there are credible reports that a substantial part of the illegally mined coal in Meghalaya is transported to other states, primarily on trucks bearing Nagaland licence plates and with papers showing that the mineral was mined in some other north eastern state.

The Court said the Supreme Court had passed orders based on the initial orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to completely arrest the illegal mining of coal in the state.

The other directions issued by the NGT and the Supreme Court are incidental to the principal part of the order and are to ensure the confiscation and disposal of the previously illegally mined coal.

One must not miss the wood for the trees by ensuring compliance with the incidental directions for the disposal of the previously illegally mined coal without being alive to the complete prohibition of coal mining in the state otherwise than in accordance with law, it said.

The Bench said that a policy was notified for mining of coal in the state on March 5, 2021 and several applications were received. However, no license has yet been issued for any mining.

Yet, rampant illegal mining of coal continues despite orders of this Court dating back, probably, to March of this year. The NGT and Supreme Court orders have been in place from 2016 or earlier, it observed.

The High Court also directed the state and its officials to complete the process of disposing of the previously mined coal by the end of 2023.

It directed Coal India Limited and MSTC Ltd to render adequate assistance and immediately report to Justice Katakey in the event of any failure on the part of the state to adhere to the timelines, terms or upon any impediment in the way of early and quick disposal of previously mined coal.

The state had filed a report dated October 17 incorporating a notification dated October 13 and issued by the mining and geology departments and indicating the revised comprehensive plan for handing over the extracted coal to CIL for auction.

The Court said Justice Katakey will continue to monitor the process on a periodic basis and all information sought should be provided to him by the State, CIL and MSTC.

During the hearing, Dr Mozika, DSGI, sought leave to intervene as advocate of the Court and submitted that the commercial terms for the auction may not have been appropriately fixed.

He pointed out that the earnest deposit in the first round of auction has been kept so low that successful bidders have not come to collect the quantities allotted to them. He suggested that if the quantum of earnest deposit is substantially raised, serious parties will be in the fray and the process may be expedited. To this the Bench hoped that Justice Katakey would look into the matter so that a process of re-auctioning and consequent delay can be avoided.

The next hearing will be held on November 9.

Cause Title: In Re suo motu illegal mining of coal in the State of Meghalaya v. State of Meghalaya

Click here to read/download Order

With PTI inputs