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Meghalya forest minister lauds NGT ban

Shillong, May 7: Meghalaya forest minister Prestone Tynsong today categorically admitted that rat-hole mining was illegal and termed the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) ban on such activities a good move.

In contrast, chief minister Mukul Sangma had evaded a reply on May 2 when asked if rat-hole mining was illegal in the state.

Sangma had said the state government had already taken measures prior to NGT order by coming out with the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012, which conforms to scientific mining and statutory rules related to mining.

“No doubt it is illegal because coal and other minerals fall under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act,” Tynsong told reporters here.

The act covers all minerals except mineral oils (natural gas and petroleum).

Tynsong said although it is illegal, “rat-hole mining falls under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution where ownership of the land belongs to the people”.

He pointed out that the land tenure system in the state was very peculiar because of the fact that the indigenous people are owners of the land. Landowners, who are also the owners of the mines, carry out rat-hole mining without taking mining lease from the government.

Tynsong said the issue of mining in the state was “very deep” but supported the NGT’s interim order banning rat-hole mining.

“From the legal or environmental point of view, it is good that the NGT has given such an order so that the government can carry the people along for implementing the mining policy to address the environmental issue,” the forest minister said.

He said the state government now has to regulate mining activities as per the order of the NGT.

“We wanted to appeal to the NGT to lift the order by justifying that the government has taken measures to regulate mining activities in the state,” Tynsong said.

Though the forest minister admitted that past governments had done little to bring a policy to regulate mining activities in the state, he did not want to blame his predecessors. “We should not blame anyone but those in governance should do something. Now, we have to regulate mining by coming up with appropriate schemes and statutory rules,” he said.

The NGT had, on April 17, issued an interim order to stop rat-hole coal mining across Meghalaya. It also warned against illegal transportation of the mineral.

The order said: “By such illegal mining of coal, neither the government nor the people of the country are benefited. It is only the coal mafias who are getting benefit by these sort of illegal activities. We are of the considered view that this act should be condemned and in any event, such illegal activities are to be put to an end and the state of Meghalaya should come forward with an appropriate scheme and the statutory rules.”

The NGT had acted on an application filed by the All Dimasa Students’ Union (Adsu) and Dima Hasao District Committee (DHDC) from Assam on April 2, which blamed “illegal rat-hole mining” in Jaintia hills for polluting the Kopili river.

While admitting the application, the NGT also directed the Meghalaya chief secretary and director-general of police to ensure that “rat-hole mining/illegal mining” is stopped forthwith throughout the state of Meghalaya and any illegal transport of coal shall not take place until further orders passed the tribunal.

The director-general of police was also directed to report to the NGT about the compliance of the order by the next date of hearing on May 19.

Action against cement plants: Tynsong said stern action would be taken against cement plants in the state that fail to adhere to environmental norms and asked the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board to carry out immediate inspections to verify the conditions of the factories.

There are numerous cement plants operating in Meghalaya, particularly in mineral-rich Jaintia hills.

Today, the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) from Narpuh in East Jaintia Hills district, where around four cement factories are operating, complained to Tynsong that the companies were responsible for degradation of the environment in the district.

The KSU said the cement factories were releasing effluents, which affect people’s health and polluting water bodies such as the Lukha river that turned acidic.

The KSU also informed the minister that agricultural and forestland had been affected by the factories.

“If the companies are found guilty, they will be asked to close down as per environmental norms,” Tynsong said while informing that the Pollution Control Board had been asked to submit a report within May 31.

The minister also said the board has to ensure that it monitors the condition of the cement factories on a regular basis.