| A CCTV camera installed near Meghalaya High Court on Monday. Picture by UB Photos |
Shillong, June 9: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today refused to lift its interim order banning rat-hole mining in Meghalaya but gave temporary relief to coal mine owners and exporters by allowing transportation of extracted coal.
The special circuit bench of the tribunal’s eastern zone bench which comprised of chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee passed its order by dismissing appeals made by coal miners and exporters associations to lift the ban.
The hearing was conducted at Meghalaya High Court here.
Advocate for the Meghalaya government, Ranjan Mukherjee, after the hearing said the tribunal has retained the April 17 interim order banning coal mining in the state but allowed transportation of only extracted coal kept in the open.
Mukherjee said the government had presented before the tribunal that around 3.4 million metric tonnes of extracted coal was lying in the open in the six districts of the state but coal miners’ associations claimed that there were around 9 million metric tonnes of extracted coal.
He, however, said the tribunal-constituted committee would indicate the actual quantity of extracted coal for transportation.
“This committee will work out the modalities related to transportation of extracted coal and submit its report to the tribunal within a week,” Mukherjee said. He added that the tribunal has also directed the deputy commissioners of various districts to see that all coal pits across the state are sealed before allowing the transportation of coal.
Another advocate, who appeared on behalf of Meghalaya police, Pinaki Misra, said coal (extracted coal) being a national resource and asset should not go in waste but be allowed for transportation.
The tribunal had on April 17 passed an interim order banning mining and transportation of coal in Meghalaya based on an application filed by the All Dimasa Students Union and Dima Hasao District Committee (DHDC) from Assam on April 2. It blamed “illegal” rat-hole mining in Jaintia hills of Meghalaya for polluting the Kopili river (originating from Meghalaya) which made its water downstream highly acidic.
Anurabh Chowdhury who appeared for the students’ union and the DHDC said the tribunal has directed that the money (royalty) recovered from the disposal of extracted coal should be disbursed between the autonomous councils and the government and an amount should be kept for land reclamation in the mining areas.
“The tribunal-constituted committee will visit the mining sites within seven days from today and will prepare an inventory,” Chowdhury said.
The hearing of the case witnessed an unusual scene with much anxiety among the audience, mostly coal miners and exporters who thronged the courtroom making it jam-packed.
While a few managed to get inside the courtroom, hundreds were on the premises of the high court hoping for a positive outcome.
Some legislators were also seen present in the courtroom during the hearing, despite the budget session of the state Assembly being in progress.
The tribunal has directed the Meghalaya government to produce witnesses on the mining disaster that occurred at Nangalbibra in South Garo Hills district on July 6, 2012, killing at least 15 labourers.
A total of 30 coal labourers were reportedly working inside the coal mine when the incident took place. Fifteen miners managed to escape while 15 others were trapped inside and are feared dead.
“The tribunal was not convinced with the findings of the National Disaster Response Force that no bodies were found inside the coal mine during its search,” Mukherjee said.
The next hearing on the ban and the July 2012 incident will be in Shillong on August 1.
Donkupar Roy, leader of the Opposition, said, “The budget estimates may have to be looked at again in view of the effect of the ban on coal mining by the NGT, and the change of government at the Centre.”
HSPDP legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said, “The failure of the government to implement the Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012 has resulted in the imposition of the ban. The impact of the ban is huge, and has affected the economic activities of the people at all levels.”
We should not lose sight that mining activities have been a source of economic support to the state and the people for years. However, I do not subscribe to the idea of unregulated mining. We need to strike a balance between protecting the environment, and safeguarding the interest of all stakeholders. The government must, therefore, find a way, and exercise its mind judiciously to make both ends meet.”
NPP legislator James P.K. Sangma said, “We do not want the Meghalaya economy to collapse in view of the ban as revenue is being derived from coal. But has the government prepared any contingency plan (to deal with the effects of the ban) or will the economy collapse?”