The Meghalaya High Court in a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) has recently rebuked the State Government saying it is alarming that it allowed tens of thousands of metric tonnes of coal to be cleared for export through land customs stations within the State without seeking to ascertain the source or origin of such coal.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Diengdoh said, “It is alarming that despite the State understanding the purport of the request by the Central agencies, it was so lax that it allowed tens of thousands of metric tonnes of coal to be cleared for export through land customs stations within the State without, apparently, seeking to ascertain the source or origin of such coal. The complicity of the State with the mafia and the racket operating in the illegal mining of coal and its illegal transportation is clear and obvious and there can be little doubt that the higher-ups in the administration are the beneficiaries of the illegal gains and responsible for the colossal loss of revenue that has been occasioned to the State.”

The Bench noted that it takes no rocket science or great IQ to infer that illegally mined coal from Meghalaya is dumped around Dudhnoi and then delivered from Dudhnoi to agencies in Meghalaya for the ultimate export thereof through land customs stations in the State.

Advocates S. Dey and S. Deb represented the petitioner while Government Advocates N. Syngkon and D. Nath, DSGI N. Mozika and Advocate A. Pradhan represented the respondents.

In this case, several letters were issued to the State by Central agencies and by the Union Minister of Finance long prior to the suo motu proceedings pertaining to the illegal coal mining and illegal transportation of the illegally-mined coal being instituted in the High Court. There was a rather wishy-washy explanation and the general refrain was that such letters required better coordination between the State administration and the Customs authorities to ensure that no illegally-mined coal was exported in the garb of coal that had originated outside the State.

The High Court in the above regard observed, “If the State had been warned by the Central agencies to ensure that illegally-mined coal in the State was not attempted to be exported on the representation that they were coal mined outside the State, the State ought to have been alive to the issue and checked every truck carrying coal and verified every request for permission to export coal to ascertain the origin of the coal and the veracity of the declarations made by the intending exporters. … the Court cannot be faulted if it were to infer that the respondent No. 14 may have been virtually an instrumentality of the State aided and abetted by the State to finance the lucrative business of illegal mining of coal in the State.”

The Court further noted that it has been repeatedly observed in its orders that illegal mining of coal could not have continued unless there was the transportation of coal and, without transportation and no demand, illegal mining would have died a natural death.

“In entities like the respondent No. 14 herein, aided and abetted by the State, finding a way to export the illegally-mined coal in the State there was demand for the product that resulted in illegal mining on a larger scale. And, this despite Supreme Court orders affirming the National Green Tribunal prohibition on illegal mining that have been in place since or about 2016 and the Chief Secretary to the State, no less, being tasked with the responsibility of ensuring due compliance with the orders”, said the Court.

The Court hoped that despite the abysmal conduct of the State and its highest officials in this matter, steps would be taken to arrest further illegal mining and its illegal transportation, though the 13th interim report filed by Justice Katakey (retired) in the suo motu proceedings may indicate otherwise.

“The Central agencies suspected such activities and in the letters referred to in the previous order warned the State, including through the Union Minister of Finance. The State, not only did not take any steps, but actively concealed these letters from the Court with glib apology recorded above at paragraph 12 of its recent affidavit”, concluded the Court.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for the next hearing on June 15, 2023.

Cause Title- Champer M. Sangma v. State of Meghalaya & Ors.

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