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Mining of limestone: Supreme Court directs to put High Court order in abeyance

Shillong, Nov 15: The Supreme Court has directed that the September 7 – order passed by the Meghalaya High Court relating to the mining of limestone as a minor mineral, should be kept in abeyance.  


In its order passed on November 11, the apex court said, “In our considered view, it is not necessary for us to go into the merits of the issues involved in these matters, as the main PIL No. 18 of 2019, is still pending adjudication before the High Court of Meghalaya at Shillong. Keeping this fact in view, we deem it appropriate to direct that the impugned Order dated 7-9-2022 passed by the High Court, shall remain in abeyance and be not given effect to, till the main case vis. PIL No. 18 of 2019 is decided by the High Court.”


“Owing to the nature of controversy, we request the High Court to decide the PIL at the earliest and preferably within a period of three months, reckoned from the date of communication of a copy of this Order,” it said while disposing of the special leave petitions filed by the state.


Hearing a PIL on the matter here on Tuesday, the Meghalaya High Court said the final hearing on the PIL will be held on November 21, as per request of the state.


It said that the order of September 7, 2022 was passed in the present proceedings by which it was held, prima facie, that when mining of limestone as a minor mineral required the use of the minor mineral for building purposes, a minor mineral license could not be obtained to procure limestone for the purpose of export thereof.


The PIL was filed by one Lawyerson War.


The Division Bench of the High Court said that at the time that this petition was filed in public interest, the petitioner assailed the practice in this State by which limestone mining was allowed for incidental purposes without the requirement of any license.


The facts revealed that ostensible farmers had mined more than 90,000 metric tonne while apparently preparing their land for agriculture.


The details obtained by the petitioner pursuant to queries raised under the Right to Information Act, 2005 have been indicated in some orders and it was such alarming situation that prompted the Court to take up the matter.


It said that in course of the proceedings it came to light that a lot of the mining licenses for mining limestone as a minor mineral were being abused in limestone being ultimately exported.


“Though the State submitted that considerable revenue was generated by the export of limestone, the State could not indicate how the export of limestone would meet with the requirements of the license being obtained as a minor mineral since limestone being mined as a minor mineral was confined to limestone being used for building purposes,” the division bench said.


Stating that the order dated September 7, referred to a memorandum of July 25, 2022 issued by the Ministry of Mines of the Government of India, the division bench said, “The relevant paragraph from the memorandum was quoted and the paragraph interpreted to imply that the end-use of limestone had to be for the manufacture of lime used as building material for it to be regarded as a minor mineral. There was no prohibition on the State to act in accordance with law and ensure that exporters of limestone obtained license as a major mineral in accordance with law.”


 “In view of the observation of the Supreme Court that the order dated September 7, 2022 will remain in abeyance, such order cannot be continued at the interim stage. However, the only question that is to be decided is based on the interpretation of the said memorandum of July 25, 2022,” it added.


The bench said that petitioner has reported that several fly-by-night minor minerals licensees of limestone who may have been observing the present proceedings or who may have been set up by the State had approached the Supreme Court with individual special leave petitions.


However, despite such petitions being disposed of because of the pendency of the present proceedings, such adventurers have made no attempt to participate in the present proceedings despite, obviously, being aware of the same, it stated.

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