| NDRF personnel on a search mission in a coal mine in South Garo Hills. File picture |
Shillong, April 4: The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was today directed by the National Green Tribunal to inspect the mining activity in various places in Meghalaya, particularly in relation to the pollution and danger to human life.
The circuit bench of the tribunal met at the Meghalaya high court where its chairman, Justice Swatanter Kumar, and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee, who is also a former Meghalaya chief secretary, attended.
The bench was conducting a hearing on the threat to life arising out of coal mining in South Garo Hills.
“The CPCB shall inspect the mines, along with the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and representative of the state government and submit a comprehensive report with regard to carrying of mining activity in various places of Meghalaya, particularly in relation to pollution and danger to human life,” the bench noted.
It also asked the Meghalaya secretary (mining and geology department) to file a personal affidavit giving a complete picture on record to the environment protection and anti-pollution devices and the measures for protecting and control of pollution that are being taken.
The tribunal also directed that the affidavit state how many incidents of labourers being trapped or deaths have occurred in the state.
While the tribunal is deliberating on the July 6, 2012 incident in South Garo Hills where 15 miners were reportedly trapped inside a mine, it also made a reference to an incident, which occurred in the Briwar region of East Jaintia Hills.
The incident at Briwar Rasong coal mining area under Saipung police station had occurred in November last year where five migrant labourers hailing from Assam were crushed to death.
“Besides this incident in question, which has been reported to this tribunal, there was another incident which occurred at Briwar in Meghalaya, and it is reported that nearly five mining workers were crushed to death in a private coal mine,” the tribunal observed.
However, the tribunal expressed serious doubts on the interim report as well as other reports submitted before the tribunal of the National Disaster Management Response Force.
“The manner in which the report has been prepared leaves much to be desired,” it noted. “The exact status of the two incidents referred to above shall be squarely dealt with in the said affidavit. The secretary shall also state and collect the requisite data from the deputy commissioner as to whether the present mining activity is being permitted or not, if so, the area would be specified,” the tribunal stated in its directive to the secretary (mining and geology department). Another major aspect it referred to was the environmental impact and environmental regulation for carrying on mining activity in various mines in Meghalaya.
The counsel for the mine contractor (respondent number 5) in South Garo Hills had stated that the mining activity “is just carried out under the orders of the headman of the village under whose jurisdiction the mine falls and there is no formal protection and regulatory mechanism adopted by the state for carrying on mining activity.”
The counsel who appeared for the state of Meghalaya brought to the tribunal’s notice that a Mines and Minerals Policy. 2012 has been framed and is being implemented since November 4, 2013.
“We have serious doubts in this regard on whether this policy was fully implemented in 2012 and all the coal mines in Meghalaya and there could have been better records for prevention of the incidents like the one on July 6, 2012,” the tribunal observed. The counsel for the Union ministry of environment and forests told the tribunal that coal in Meghalaya contains very high sulphur, when mined. This percolates into the ground water and converts the water into sulphuric acid discharged in the mines, which causes very serious environmental hazards particularly to ground water, the counsel added.
The tribunal was informed that though the MoEF had written to the State Pollution Control Board, “no steps have been taken.”
The counsel also pointed out that the “entire mining activity is being carried on without obtaining consent to establish and/or consent to operate from the State Pollution Control Board.” Therefore, the member secretary of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board was asked to file an affidavit stating the effect of what has been pointed out by the counsel for MoEF.
“The member secretary, in consultation with the scientists in MoEF, shall state what measures are required to be taken while giving permission to carry out mining activity to ensure prevention of environment, particularly underground water,” the tribunal stated. Turning to the July 6, 2012 incident in South Garo Hills, the tribunal noted that that respondent No. 5 had submitted three affidavits .
“There are serious variations in these affidavits. The respondent, on the one hand, says he maintains and is in possession of regular mining activity and, on the other hand, he is giving particulars of different events including the number of workers,” the tribunal noted.
Prima facie, the tribunal was of the considered view that the respondent “has not come to the tribunal with clean hands and has not stated complete and true facts, even within his knowledge.”
“From the affidavit, it is not clear whether actually some persons were trapped and died consequently because of the sudden incident that occurred on July 6, 2012 at the mine in question. In terms of the order of the tribunal dated January 24, 2014, names of certain persons had been given and recorded who unfortunately died in the incident. These were not clearly admitted by the respondent,” the tribunal noted.
Moreover, the tribunal said four affidavits have been filed before it, including that by the widows of the workers who have died in the mine incident of July 6, 2012.
“The respondent had even paid some compensation, nearly Rs 80,000, to the dependents of the deceased who were earlier getting a salary of Rs 12,000 per month. It is also averred in these affidavits that they have been warned with dire consequences and thus, they could not visit the area as they were threatened. They are directed to be taken on record and let a copy of the same be furnished to the counsel appearing for the respective parties. Liberty is granted to the counsel for respondent number 5 to file a reply affidavit, if any, within three weeks from today,” the tribunal ordered.
The tribunal will give further directions on the matter here on June 2.