New Delhi, July 24: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and the Meghalaya government on a public interest litigation seeking a ban on mining and cement factories that are perceived to be a threat to the largest network of cave systems in the subcontinent, some of them dating back to the Jurassic age.
Admitting the petition filed by the Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association, a bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal asked the Centre, the J.D. Rymbai government and the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board to submit replies within four weeks.
Bijan Ghosh, counsel for the petitioner, said it was a shame that Meghalaya had announced a seven-year tax holiday and extended other benefits to cement and other red-category industries instead of taking steps to conserve cave systems that were repositories of fast-vanishing life forms.
He pointed out that coal and limestone mining had already turned the land fallow and polluted drinking water sources.
In the petition, the Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association said indiscriminate mining activity with dynamite and other explosives had already caused damage to the over 1,000 cave systems that took shape over a period of 40 to 50 million years.
The longest of the cave systems, spanning 22.2 km, is Krem Kotsati. The troglodytes that inhabit these caves do not exist anywhere else in the world. Speleologists and cavers from around the world visit the caves to see river passages, swimming chambers, fossil galleries, streamways and endangered fish and crab species.
Pointing out that the caves are covered by the definition of “ancient monument’’ under the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, the petition seeks a directive to the state government to urgently take steps for their conservation.
One of the allegations against the government is that it conveniently ignored the Land Transfer Act while granting licences to industries.
The legislation prohibits non-tribals from purchasing land in the state. The law allows transfer of land to non-tribals only when it benefits the tribal population.