Guwahati: The Meghalaya government has finally woken up and has ordered the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling banning the transportation of coal in the state, with immediate effect.

Within hours of the MyNation report on illegal coal mining in Meghalaya and the Supreme Court’s directive to ban the transportation of all coal in the region till February 19, the state government on Tuesday issued an order to ban all coal transportation. 

The order issued by Meghalaya chief secretary Y Tsering stated that “In pursuance of the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its sitting today the 15.01.2019 as communicated by the learned advocate general, the government of Meghalaya, transportation of coal in the state of Meghalaya is hereby stopped with immediate effect. All authorities concerned are hereby directed to ensure compliance of the aforesaid directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India without fail.”

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Slamming the Meghalaya government on illegal coal mining, the apex court on Tuesday said that the state government has failed to contain the illegal mining in the state.

The apex court also refused to grant more time to the mine owners to transport the extracted coal for sale. 

On the other hand, MyNation exposed the previous Congress-led government’s involvement in Meghalaya’s illegal coal mining despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban and how the government helped the miners to illegally extract and transport coal in blatant violations of the NGT and Supreme Court orders.

Also read: Congress rule abetted illegal mining in Meghalaya, reveals report 

A 22-member activist group had recently submitted a citizens’ report to the Supreme Court and seeking to stop all types of illegal coal mining in the state.

The citizens’ report stated that – “For the government of Meghalaya and the coal mining lobby, NGT orders were more about finding ways to cock a snook at the spirit of the legal intervention. 

Rather than finding ways to put a stop to the ecologically destructive, economically corrupt, criminally dangerous form of mining that is prevalent in Meghalaya, and look for ways in which mining could exist in consonance with the current national laws and best practices, both the government and coal mining lobby used the legal opportunities provided by the ‘interim’ orders of the NGT to transport ‘already extracted coal’.” 

“On 9th June 2014, the NGT said - We are of the considered view that to a limited extent, we should permit the transportation of the already extracted coal lying in open near the mining sites. 

However, such removal shall be subject to strict supervision and directions of the following committee and the terms and conditions of this order:

(I) We hereby constitute a Committee of the following:

(1) Director of mines, Meghalaya.

(2) Member secretary, Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board.

(3) Members secretary, Assam State Pollution Control Board.

(4) Sr scientist of the Central Pollution Control Board.

(5) Sr representative of Ministry of Environment and Forests.

(6) Principal secretary, mining and geology dept, Government of Meghalaya.”

“This committee miserably failed to do its job. In a situation where time and information was of the essence, this committee failed to frame requisite guidelines for transportation of extracted coal, it delegated its powers to already compromised government departments and authorities. This led NGT to pass strictures against this committee on 01 August 2014. NGT was surprised to observe that this committee overvalued the extracted coal as well as put on record unverified claims by the coal miners/traders.

In fact, the recent report submitted by the committee appointed by us vide its order dated 9th June 2014 states that nearly 3659152 metric tonnes of coal as declared by the mine owners/managers but the same was assessed by the committee to be 3736352 metric tonnes in the report. 

It is also stated that the extracted quantity of the coal declared by the mine owners/managers which could not be verified is 8587147 metric tonnes.

According to them, the valuation of extracted coal is approximately Rs 18,000 crore as on date,” the report stated.

The citizens’ report further stated that – “This variation in estimation and verification and lack of intent to frame guidelines about transport, weighing and taxation of coal is not surprising. The mining, transport and trade of coal in Meghalaya has always worked without any effective regulation. 

Any attempt to regulate the industry has led to ‘violent’ upsurge created by the coal barons or subversion of legal mechanisms helped along by the coal lobby’s representatives within the government.

Although NGT’s order came as a shock for the coal establishment, once they knew that the NGT may allow transportation of coal after estimation and verification of already extracted coal – this coal lobby started finding out ways in which this Tribunal order could be bent in order to go back to business as usual. So what was this ‘business as usual’? The answer lies in the annual audit reports put out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

As coal mining contributed to the revenues of the state exchequer, audit reports annually noticed discrepancies in the way coal mining industry was violating the existing regulatory mechanism to 

a) Continue their unregulated, environmentally destructive mining 

b) Continue to flout all taxation and transportation norms to steal money which was meant for state revenue.

“When NGT allowed a temporary relief to the coal miners to transport their coal in a period of three months starting October 2014 after advance payment of royalty, one did not foresee the way this window of transportation would keep on getting extended. 

The committee which the tribunal had set up had tried to establish guidelines and benchmarks so that already extracted coal could be transported quickly in a transparent, timebound and accountable manner within three months.

Three months was an adequate amount of time to transport this coal keeping in view the experience of pre-ban period when April would have been a leaner season with respect to amount of coal leftover for transportation. 

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But the coal miners and transporters willfully assisted by the government via its misleading representations to the tribunal kept getting transportation orders extended,” the report read.

Also read: Meghalaya govt fails to rescue trapped coal miners 23 days on; NGT imposes Rs 100 crore fine

It is to be mentioned that 15 miners are trapped inside a 370-feet deep flooded coal mine at Ksan area in East Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya since December 13.