Friday, February 3, 2023

Meghalaya High Court orders not to mix fresh mined coal with older lot

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The Meghalaya High Court has recently observed that immediate steps should be taken to dispose of the previously mined coal so that freshly mined coal cannot be mixed with the previous coal and an excuse proffered that freshly mined coal was also a part of the previously mined coal.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee,  Justice H. S. Thangkhiew and Justice W. Diengdoh heard a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on the issue of  Illegal Mining of Coal in the State of Meghalaya.

The State has filed a report by way of an affidavit affirmed on June 20, 2022 by the Commissioner in the Mining and Geology Department. Justice B.P. Katakey (Retd), who has been appointed by the High Court to oversee and ensure that all the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal pertaining to coal-mining in the State are implemented, has filed the first interim report dated June 20, 2022. Justice Katakey’s report includes a detailed chart indicating the recommendations made in the preliminary report filed by him, the action taken as per a report received on June 4, 2022 and the action taken as per a further report received on June 15, 2022.

On a preliminary reading of the first interim report, the Bench noted that  a majority of the directions are yet to be implemented though such directions were issued several years back.

Let a copy of the first interim report be made over to the State for the State’s comments on the extent of compliance as indicated in such a report, directed by the Court.

It is directed by the Court  that the affidavits in this matter should be filed by the State through its Chief Secretary since the Chief Secretary has been made responsible to ensure compliance of the directions in the relevant orders. “The Chief Secretary will also explain why a recommendation should not be made by this Court for taking appropriate action against such officials in view of the abject failure of the State to comply with the directions issued several years back.”

For the purpose of ensuring the speedy disposal of coal, the Coal India Limited is added as a party to the present proceedings. Coal India Limited will be represented before Justice Katakey and ensure that the previously mined coal is disposed of as expeditiously as possible, the Court ordered.

It also further noted by the Court  that the State may be less than willing to prosecute the persons who indulged in or continue to indulge in illegal coal-mining, for obvious reasons.

Therefore, the Court went on to observe that an extreme adverse inference may be drawn by the Court if the State is found lacking in such regard and a comprehensive report of how the State is proceeding with vigour against the illegal miners is not placed before the Court.

“Affidavits have also been filed by the Central Pollution Control Board, the North-Eastern Space Applications Centre and the Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Copies of all affidavits filed in these proceedings should be made available to Justice Katakey. List on July 12, 2022,” the order reads.

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