Supreme Court allows coal mining in Meghalaya

SHILLONG, Jul 3: The Supreme Court on Wednesday has allowed coal mining operations in Meghalaya, on the privately and community owned land subject to the permissions from the concerned authorities.

The Supreme Court said, “We clarify that in event mining operations are undertaken in privately owned/community owned land in Hills Districts of Meghalaya in accordance with mining lease with approved mining plan as per Act, 1957 and Mineral Concessions Rule, 1960, the ban order dated 17.04.2014 of the tribunal of the NGT shall not come in way of carrying mining operations.”

It may be mentioned that five years ago, on April 17, 2014, the National Green Tribunal, had banned coal mining in Meghalaya after the Assam-based All Dimasa Student’s Union and Dima Hasao district committee filed a petition, stating the acidic discharge from unscientific coal mines of Meghalaya was polluting the Kopili river downstream.

The Apex Court also said that the allegations of environmental degradation by illegal and unregulated coal mining were fully proved from materials on the record including the report of the experts, report of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board, the report of Katakey committee.

It also said that the amount of Rs 100 crore which has been directed by NGT to be deposited by State of Meghalaya is neither a penalty nor a fine imposed on the State of Meghalaya.

However, the Supreme Court said that it accepted the submissions of the state government that Meghalaya has very limited source of finances and putting an extra burden on the State of Meghalaya to make payment of Rs. 100 Crores from its own financial resources may cause great hardship to it.

“Ends of justice be served in modifying the direction of NGT dated 04.01.2019 to the extent that State is permitted to transfer an amount of Rs. 100 Crores from the amount lying in the MEPRF to the Central Pollution Control Board. The Central Pollution Control Board as directed by the Tribunal shall utilize the aforesaid amount of Rs.100 Crores only for restoration of the environment in the State of Meghalaya,” the Supreme Court said.

The Apex Court also stated that entire extracted coal lying at various places in hills districts of Meghalaya be directed to be taken over by Coal India Ltd.

“The Coal India Ltd. may dispose of the same as per its normal method of disposal and proceeds be dealt with as per directions issued,” the Supreme Court judgment stated.

It also stated that the state having carried out the assessment of the extracted coal including the details of the quantities and the details of owners being available with it, it may ensure that entire coal is handed over to the Coal India Ltd., as per the mode and manner to be formulated by Katakey Committee in consultation with officers of the Coal India Ltd. and the State of Meghalaya.

The Supreme Court also said that it is for Coal India Ltd. to decide as to venue, where they shall receive the coal, i.e., either at any of its depot or any other place in Meghalaya and it is for the Coal India Ltd. to finalise the process of disposal and auction of the coal.

“It shall be the duty of the State of Meghalaya and its officers especially Deputy Commissioner of the area concerned to enter details of quantity of the coal, name of the owner and place from where it is collected. All concerned shall take steps to ensure weighment of the coal when it is received by Coal India Ltd,” the Supreme Court said.

The Court also directed that the expenses of transportation shall be borne by the state government, Coal India Ltd, or by both, which expenses shall be deductible from the price received of the coal.

“The State of Meghalaya shall be entitled to royalty and payment towards MERP Fund as well as taxes out of the price of the coal. After deducting its expenses for transportation with 10 percent of price of the coal, the Coal India Ltd. shall remit the balance amount to the state and it is for the state after deducting the royalty and payment to the MERP Fund and taxes to pay back balance the amount to the owner,” the Supreme Court stated.

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