Read Order: In Re Suo Motu Illegal Mining of Coal in the State of Meghalaya Vs. State of Meghalaya

Pankaj Bajpai

Shillong, March 15, 2022: In view of the gravity of the situation and the widespread nature of illegal coal mining in the State despite orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Supreme Court, the Meghalaya High Court (Shillong Bench) has observed that a committee may be set up to monitor the implementation of the directions and recommendations, having the freedom and authority to function without any political interference.

A Larger Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee, Justice H.S. Thangkhiew and Justice W. Diengdoh said that the scene in and around Khliehriat speaks of the vast stretches there being beyond the purview of the administration and it is impossible that the illegal mining activities and the deposit of freshly mined coal would be conducted with such impunity without the possible connivance of the local administration or even worse.

The case arose when, at the request of the Court last week, the Chief Secretary accompanied all three judges to visit Khliehriat and its nearby areas. While travelling along the highways, fresh coal was found to have been deposited in mounds on both sides of the road spanning tens of kilometers. On the road from Khliehriat to Amlarem, about a kilometre or two from the Silchar – Shillong National Highway, there is a vantage point from where one can see the valley below. The lower ground is riddled with rigs and tell-tale signs of mining activities and recently constructed hutments. Even along the stretch, for tens of miles, freshly mined coal is dumped on both sides of the road in plain view.

Later, a report was published in the Shillong Times on February 23, 2022, pursuant to which suo motu notice was taken by this Court and the present public interest litigation got initiated, which spoke of rat-hole mining in the interior areas which may not be close to any road and which may be in areas not densely inhabited or even easily accessible. 

Perusing the illegal activities around the Khliehriat region, it appeared to this Court that the practice is rampant and may be even more intense in areas which are not easily accessible. 

Finding that the directions issued by the Supreme Court have not been adhered to, the Larger Bench said that the Chief Secretary to the State is responsible for implementing such directions and the Chief Secretary remains obliged to ensure that all illegal mining activities are stopped without further ado or delay.

“It is necessary to monitor the activities and it is surprising that the State has not resorted to drone photography to monitor the activities in the less accessible areas. It is alarming that District Magistrates, Sub-Divisional Officers and even Block Level Officers are in place along with their counterparts from the police right up to the Superintendent of Police; but all of them turn a Nelson’s eye to such illegal activities”, added the Bench. 

The High Court found that the State has done precious little to ensure the transportation of the coal that had been previously mined and the auction thereof through Coal India Limited as per the directions of the Supreme Court and the NGT, which has resulted in the present unacceptable scenario.

Accordingly, the High Court listed the matter on April 4, 2022 for next hearing. 

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