The Meghalaya High Court has held that the state should complete the exercise of entering into contracts with capable agencies or deploying adequate manpower with the requisite knowledge to man the four additional weighbridges.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Diengdoh heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) pertaining to the failure on the part of the State to check the overloading of goods vehicles plying on the roads here.
The matter is of some importance, particularly since this State is one of the wettest regions in the world and maintenance and repair of both the National and State highways cost a lot due to the heavy rainfall and the quick erosion of the top surface of the metalled roads.
There is a lot of mining which is indulged in the State; hopefully, the non-coal mining is done upon obtaining permission or license in accordance with law.
However, as noticed in several other orders passed over the last 15 months or so there is rampant illegal mining of coal in the State despite orders of prohibition passed by the National Green Tribunal and duly affirmed by the Supreme Court since or about the year 2016. The final order of the Supreme Court was passed in 2019.
The underlying accusation in the petition filed in public interest is that not only are vehicles laden with illegally-mined coal allowed to move freely, but the vehicles are, more often than not, also overladen and the State authorities do not care to check the same.
According to the State, some 17 or 19 weighbridges were originally functional all across the State, though the State promised to ensure that 23 weighbridges were operational.
In addition, the State had been directed to invest in electronic weigh-pads at several other places, since 23 fixed weighbridges were just not enough to cover the entire State.
It may also be kept in mind that a lot of goods are transported by road through Meghalaya to reach the Barak Valley, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram.
A report has been filed by the State on June 15, 2023. Such report indicates that one weighbridge in addition to the original 19 has become functional and three other weighbridges have been made ready but they are not operational since the contracts with the agencies to run the same or the manpower to run the same are not in place.
“The State should complete the exercise of entering into contracts with capable agencies or deploying adequate manpower with the requisite knowledge to man the four additional weighbridges. Nothing is indicated as to the electronic weigh-pads.”
As to the status of the revenue collected due to overloading of vehicles from March to June, 2023, a detailed report has been filed covering almost all of the districts and indicating the quantum of fine realised.
However, the Bench noted from such status report that in at least four of the worse affected districts in the State, particularly in East and West Jaintia Hills and in South Garo Hills where there is rampant illegal mining, several illegal coke oven plants and continuing illegal transportation of the illegally-mined coal, there is no reference to any vehicle overladen with coal being stopped except for 13 MT in South Garo Hills where Gasuapara is used as a huge depot for illegally-mined coal in the State to be presented as coal brought from outside to be ultimately exported through the land customs stations in such district to Bangladesh.
In the East and West Jaintia Hills where the extent of illegal mining appears to be the highest, no indication is given as to whether the vehicles found to be overladen carried coal or not, though in the West Jaintia Hills with Rymbai near Khliehriat as the unofficial coal capital of the State, the report reveals that only 25 MT of limestone has been offloaded and there is no reference to any vehicle carrying coal.
The report is completely unsatisfactory as anyone travelling up and down the State and National Highways with eyes open would realise that overladen goods vehicles, whether with coal or boulders or limestone, are the norm rather than the aberration.
These are more noticeable in such parts of the highways where the gradient may be more than 10 or 15 degrees and the overladen vehicles hold up all traffic as they encounter such stretches at a snail’s pace, the Bench observed.
The Bench finds distressing that despite such activities going on in plain sight, the administration misses the same. The obvious inference would be that the administration is complicit with those involved in illegal mining, illegal transportation and overloading of vehicles.
In fact, the fact that there were about 17 or 18 weighbridges and the State was taking steps to repair or install a few more to make the total 23 was recorded in orders passed by this Court more than three months back; but the position remains, in effect, almost unaltered.
The State should do a lot better as the slippage on its part, deliberate or otherwise, leads to considerable loss of revenue.
A better structured status report should be filed when the matter appears next four weeks hence. By such time, all the 23 weighbridges must be functioning seamlessly and in key places electronic weigh-pads should also be installed, the Court directed while posting the matter on July 20, 2023 for further hearing.