Illegal Coal Mining in Meghalaya: SC directs State Govt to deposit fine

Supreme Court of India has directed Meghalaya state government to deposit Rs.100 crore fine imposed on it by National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to curb illegal coal mining with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Key Highlights of Judgement

A SC bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice K M Joseph has directed state administration to hand over illegally extracted coal to Coal India Limited (CIL) which will auction it and deposit the funds with state government.

SC upheld that as per statutory regime brought in force by notification of 15 January 2016 issued under Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) 1986, environmental clearance was required for a project of coal for mining of any extent of area.

SC bench also acknowledged that since Meghalaya has very limited sources of revenue and it allowed it to transfer Rs.100 crore to CPCB would be used for restoration work from Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (EPRF).

Evidence: Allegations of environmental degradation by illegal and unregulated coal mining has taken place in Meghalaya were fully proved from report of Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board, report of committee headed by former High Court Judge B P Katakey (or Katakey Committee), and report of experts, which all proved environmental degradation of water, air and surface.

Coal lying in Open: SC clarified that all extracted coal as assessed by Meghalaya government lying in different districts which as per order of NGT is in custody of state shall be handed over to Coal India Ltd. (CIL) for proper disposal. Katakey Committee after discussion with CIL and Meghalaya shall formulate a mechanism for transport, weighment of all assessed coal. The apex court had earlier refused to allow miners to transport extracted coal lying at various sites in Meghalaya.

Allowed Sites: SC bench has allowed mining operation to go on in Hills districts of Meghalaya on either privately or community owned land, but it is subjected to lease or required permissions from concerned authorities.

Background

On 13 December 2018, total of 15 miners were trapped in an illegal coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest, when water from nearby Lytein river gushed into it. So far only two bodies have been recovered from mine.

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