Govt-Oppn trade charges on issue of coal mining and auctioning

Shillong, Nov 9: Over 40 minutes of question hour on Day-2 of Meghalaya Legislative Assembly’s autumn session, 2020 was dedicated to an intense to-&-fro war on words on the contentious issue of coal mining, auctioning, and transportation in the state.

Independent MLA from Mawphlang S K Sunn raised the question of whether coal mining operation in the state has begun, if mining leases have been given out and if not, how much revenue has the state lost since July 2019 – when the Supreme Court permitted coal mining operations in the state.

Responding to the same, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma stated that applications, in compliance of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act 1957 and Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, are being processed for authorizing the landowners to grant Prospecting License.

Sangma narrated the entire procedure for acquiring a lease, and stated that till date the process has not been completed ‘because the application process has a lot of steps.’

On the question on how much loss in revenue the state has incurred, the Chief Minister said ‘It does not arise.’

In his supplementary question, Sunn quoted data as filed by the Commissioner & Secretary, Mining and Geology Department on April 2019 stating that extracted coal in four districts of the state is 32,56,715 MT and questioned as to why in 4 months extracted coal had climbed from 25 Lakh MT to 32 Lakh MT.

The Chief Minister in his exhaustive reply quoted data from 2015 stating that 1.34 crore MT of unclaimed coal was declared by the previous government which was then reduced to 95 Lakh MT after an assessment by the National Green Tribunal.

On demands of reassessment, the government declared 32 Lakh MT which was then approved by the Supreme Court to be auctioned, he said.

He added that his government is trying to complete auctioning at the earliest but was delayed due to several procedures.

He stated that an online portal for e-auctioning of coal has been launched, five depots in four districts are ready, transportation of unclaimed coal to the two depots in East Jaintia Hills is ongoing and that transportation in other districts will start soon.

Sunn raised another question as to if the state has encountered illegal transportation of coal and how does the state deal with such cases.

The Chief Minister responded saying incidents of illegal mining and transportation were not new and that from 2014-2018, almost 2000 cases were filed.

He said that to combat this problem his government has implemented provisions under the MMDR Act, which unlike the CrPC Act, provides stricter punishment of Rs 5 Lakh in fine and jail for 5 years.

He stated that a joint patrol along with transport, police, and mining department has been started, centralized help-lines has been created, a cash reward of Rs 5000 for information on any such illegality has been declared, high security challans have been issued, and more.

Following this, a dramatic altercation began between the Chief Minister and Congress MLA from Rangsakona MLA Zenith Sangma.

The Congress MLA questioned as to whether the 32 Lakh MT unclaimed coal that has been declared as inventory was ‘practically’ present.

Conrad slammed back saying the stock was declared by the previous government in the year 2014-2015 so why did he not question the declaration back then, when he was a minister in the MUA government.

“This 32 Lakh MT is not created by us, it was in 2015 during their time, so why are you blaming us?” the Chief Minister retorted.

He remarked that questioning the inventory was questioning the authority of the apex court since the top court had approved the auctioning of 32 Lakh MT of unclaimed coal.

In response, Zenith said, “The people what to know whether the 32 L MT declared as inventory before the SC by this present government is practically present or not?” adding that the Chief Minister was just beating around the bush.

“You created the stock, if you had doubt why didn’t you raise it that time?” Conrad reiterated, adding “If all the officers from different departments of the government…submitted to the NGT then to the SC, then SC accepted it, do you think it can be done without the coal actually being there sir? So the answer to the question is yes, absolutely. So that’s why SC has allowed this transportation.”

Congress MLA from Umroi then proceeded to ask that if coal mining and auctioning is not occurring, then why there are trucks carrying coal.

The Chief Minister said that these were coal seized after the government received complaints of unclaimed coal in various districts.