SC directs Meghalaya Govt to transfer Rs 100 Crore from MEPR Fund to CPCB for illegal coal mining [Full Report]

Supreme Court:

“Natural resources of the country are not meant to be consumed only by the present generation of men or women of the region where natural resources are deposited. These treasures of nature are for all generations to come and for intelligent use of the entire country.”

The bench of Ashok Bhushan and KM Joseph, JJ has directed the State of Meghalaya to transfer the amount of Rs.100 Crores to Central Pollution Control Board from the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF) which amount shall be used by Central Pollution Control Board only for restoration of Environment.

The Court noticed that the said amount is neither a penalty nor a fine imposed on the State of Meghalaya. Accepting the submission that State of 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 the State of Meghalaya, the Court directed that the 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.

BACKGROUND

The Court was hearing the appeals challenging the various orders of National Green Tribunal wherein several directions were issued, measures to be taken to check and combat the unregulated coal mining in Tribal areas of State of Meghalaya which coal mining resulted not only loss of lives but damaged the environment of the area. Noticing that in the course of rat-hole coal mining by flooding water several employees and workers have died, NGT held that the illegal and unscientific mining neither can be held to be in the interest of people of the area, the people working in the mines nor in the interest of environment.

It, hence, directed

  • the rat-hole mining operation, which has been going on in Jaintia Hills in the State of Meghalaya for last many years without being regulated by any law, be stopped forthwith throughout the State of Meghalaya and any illegal transport of coal shall not take place until further orders passed by the Tribunal.
  • while permitting the transportation of the already extracted coal lying in open near the mining sites, NGT constituted a committee for supervising such transportation.

RULING OF THE COURT

On the power of NGT to issue various directions, the Court held that Rule 24 of National Green Tribunal (Practice and Procedure) Rules, 2011 empowers the Tribunal to make such orders or give such 195 directions as may be necessary or expedient to give effect to its order or to secure the ends of justice. There is no lack of jurisdiction in NGT in directing for appointment of a committee and to obtain a report from a Committee.

“NGT by directing for constitution of committee has not delegated essential judicial functions. The Tribunal had kept complete control on all steps which were required to be taken by the committees and has issued directions from time to time. The State is always at liberty to obtain appropriate directions if aggrieved by any act of the committee.”

It also noticed that NGT by issuing direction to constitute the committee for transportation of the extracting mineral, for preparing time bound action plan to deal with the restoration of environment and to ensure its implementation does not in any manner interfere with the powers of the District or Regional Councils.

FURTHER DIRECTIONS

  1. All extracted coal as assessed by State of Meghalaya lying in different districts of State of Meghalaya which as per order of NGT is in custody of State of Meghalaya shall be handed over to Coal India Ltd. for proper disposal.
  2. The Katakey Committee after discussion with Coal India Ltd. and State of Meghalaya shall formulate a mechanism for transport, weighment of all assessed coal.
  3. The Coal India Ltd. shall auction the coal so received by it as per its best judgment and remit the proceed to State to the extent as directed above.
  4. All coal seized by the State for which cases have already been registered shall be dealt by the State in accordance with Section 21 of 1957 Act.

A total of 15 miners were trapped on December 13 last year in an illegal coal mine at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest, when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it. Only two bodies have been recovered from the mine so far. The Supreme Court had earlier refused to allow miners to transport extracted coal lying at various sites in Meghalaya.

The National Green Tribunal had fined the Meghalaya government on January 4.

[State of Meghalaya v. All Dimasa Students Union, Dima-Hasao District Committee, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 822, decided on 03.07.2019]


Also read:

File status report till Jan 7 on steps taken to rescue trapped Meghalaya Miners: SC to Centre & State

Meghalaya miners: We don’t know if they are dead or alive. What steps have you taken?: SC to State

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