The Meghalaya High Court said it is necessary to call in the central armed police forces (CAPF) to stop the illegal mining and transportation of coal in the state.
The court said this while hearing a PIL on Tuesday.
“The measures adopted by the state (to stop illegal mining and transportation of coal) have fallen woefully short, it is necessary to call in the Central Armed Police Forces to monitor and stop the illegal activities pertaining to coal mining that continues in the state,” a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee said in its order.
The court said that large-scale unscientific mining of coal in the state may lead to disastrous consequences.
Stating that lack of education and lack of alternative opportunities may have driven many in the state to exploit primary resources, the Bench observed that coal and limestone, which are found in abundance, have been exploited in an unscientific manner.
The High Court Bench also directed the Deputy Solicitor General of India to take notice and to inform this Court in the next hearing on February 14 the formalities for the immediate deployment of sufficient units of either the Central Industrial Security Force or the Central Reserve Police Force to take over policing from the state authorities to contain illegal coal mining activities including the transportation thereof.
It, however, observed that for the inefficiency, the state government will have to bear for the cost of deployment of the CAPFs.
The court observed that coal extraction is mainly by rat-hole mining with immediate risks of the roof of the hole caving in as such activity leaves gaping holes underground ready to buckle in if there were to be an earthquake.
Stating that unregulated extraction leaves gaps and holes close to the surface, the court observes that with heavy rainfall, there is a tragedy waiting to happen in the aftermath of the unscientific extraction of such coal and limestone.
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“Without intending to sound apocalyptic or seeking to toll the knell of an imminent doomsday, it takes no rocket science to realise that the recipe is ripe for disaster. The pot is on the boil and it is brewing a calamitous broth. Yet the lure of a quick buck prompts the sentinel to look the other way,” the court observed.
Taking cognizance of reports of death of mine workers in East Jaintia Hills in the recent past, the Chief Secretary was asked to submit a report on the same.
Justice Katakey in his interim report revealed that an FIR was lodged at Ladrymbai Outpost of the Khliehriat police station and a case was registered last month.
The Meghalaya High Court had in April 2022 appointed retired Judge BP Katakey to head a committee to make recommendations on the measures to be taken by the state in compliance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) including the sale of already extracted coal.
The interim report filed by Justice Katakey referred to several cases having been registered pertaining to illegal extraction of coal in the recent months, the court stated, adding that 31 cases have been registered in December 2022 and January 2023.
The court has also taken cognizance of complaints of continuous illegal coal mining and illegal transportation thereof in the South Garo Hills and Gasuapara appears to be at the centre of such illegal activities in that region just as Rymbai appears to be the heart of the illegal coal mining activity in the Khasi-Jaintia hills.
It also observed that the state did not file any report pertaining to illegal transportation or any checks that may have been placed in such regard. “It will be open to the state to rectify such aspects of the matter by the time the matter is taken up next,” the order stated.
Meanwhile, the Court has directed the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills to show cause why punishment for contempt, including detention in jail, should not be suffered by him for the flagrant violation of orders of this Court to check the illegal menace of unscientific coal mining rampant all over the East Jaintia Hills and the illegal transportation thereof.
The NGT had in 2014 issued a blanket ban on mining and transportation of coal.