Shillong, July 31: Chief minister Mukul Sangma, under pressure to ensure that the National Green Tribunal’s ban on rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya is lifted, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting his intervention.
Sangma’s shot off the five-page letter on Monday. An NGT bench hears three cases related to coal mining, including the ban, on Meghalaya High Court premises tomorrow.
Sangma, while admitting that coal mining in the state has been largely unregulated and has become a source of pollution, has urged Modi to invoke Section 12A (b) of the Sixth Schedule so that central laws relating to mining may be rescinded through a presidential notification. He said the Assembly would, thereafter, pass a law to regulate mining in the state in accordance with the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012.
Alternatively, Sangma suggested, certain provisions of central mining-related statutes such as the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 could be modified, allowing the state government to grant the prospecting licence or mining lease as the size of coal deposits and mines in the state are small.
Sangma said either the state government can be authorised or the coal ministry may authorise the regional office of the Indian Bureau of Mines for approval of mining plan and mine closure plan.
Referring to the above two suggestions, Sangma requested the Prime Minister to consider the proposals as it would protect the interests of those associated with coal mining and bring mining operations under a regulatory regime.
The letter, however, added that other regulatory central laws relating to safety of operations, environment, forest, child labour and others should continue to apply.
Earlier, the chief minister told the Prime Minister that the provisions of mineral laws are “not being enforced” at present. “On account of this, there have been some adverse effects of coal mining in terms of pollution of water sources and bodies, damaged landscape, and degradation of environment.”
He also acknowledged that “unscientific mining” has been a “safety hazard” to those working in the mines and the abandoned underground pits to the local population.
Claiming that the state government has been trying to deal with the situation, he informed Modi that the Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012 has been promulgated. However, he said the Centre’s help was required in the implementation of the policy. Sangma said the tribunal order banning coal mining had caused immense hardship to mine owners/developers/operators and others associated with mining in the state.
“This is being exploited by vested interests through a misinformation campaign creating a perception that mining rights of indigenous tribal people are being taken away by both the Union and state governments. This has the likely ramification of creating a sense of alienation amongst people at large,” Sangma claimed. Tomorrow, all attention will be riveted on the hearing in Meghalaya High Court, scheduled at 10am, as the million-dollar coal mining business is at stake.
The hearing will be held amid tight security given the number of protest rallies that have been organised by coal miners and coal owners associations condemning the ban and demanding its immediate withdrawal. Yesterday, thousands of protesters had converged here for a silent march.
The tribunal will have at least three sittings on issues related to mining in Meghalaya, including its interim order banning rat-hole coal mining in the state.
These cases include threat to life arising out of coal mining in South Garo Hills, ban on coal mining based on the petition filed by All Dimasa Students Union and Dima Hasao District Committee, and a case related to child labour filed by Impulse NGO Network, a social organisation in the state.
The tribunal’s circuit bench, comprising NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee, will hear the three cases.
The tribunal had passed an interim order banning “rat-hole” coal mining in Meghalaya on April 17. During its hearing on June 9 here, it had only allowed transportation of extracted coal dumped in the open with several strictures.
Anticipating a huge turnout for the hearing besides the proposed holding of a sit-in by a pressure group against the NGT, the district administration has stepped up security measures in the city and clamped Section 144 CrPC.
East Khasi Hills deputy commissioner Sanjay Goyal today said security forces would be deployed at the hearing venue. Videographers will also be put on duty on the high court premises.
The Hyniewtrep A’chik National Movement had announced its decision to organise a sit-in tomorrow in front of the high court. Goyal said the pressure group was permitted to organise the sit-in near All India Radio, Shillong, but the pressure group was indecisive whether to accept the alternative venue.
Justifying his decision to impose Section 144 CrPC with immediate effect, Goyal said such a demonstration would cause inconvenience to the public and may result in breach of peace, riot or affray, loss of life and property unless immediately prevented.
Section 144 CrPC prohibits assembly of five or more persons within 200 meters radius of the high court. Carrying of arms or any lethal weapon has also been banned by the administration.
An anti-thesis to the thesis that the NGT should be kept out of Meghalaya also evolved here today as the Civil Society Women’s Organisation, with support from Asia Indigenous People Pact and in collaboration with the North East People Alliance, resolved to extend support to the NGT order on banning rat-hole coal mining.