The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has disposed of the matter of ban on rat hole coal mining in Meghalaya but the prohibition remains until it is finally decided by the Supreme Court of India. While hearing the matter related to the ban in Meghalaya, the Court has summed up sequence of events and its orders passed in seriatum, had earlier summed up sequence of events, while disposing off the matter, NGT held that the State government shall be the custodian of the already extracted coal.
NGT in its order also instructed that Secretary of Mining and Geology, Central Pollution Control Board and Indian schools of Mines Dhandbad will first determine whether the already extracted coal is fresh and illegally mined or old stock which was already extracted but not accounted for and after submitting its report, further action or instruction will be passed on the same.
The Tribunal has also directed that no further order on transportation of already extracted coal be passed as there is already a standing order on the same by the Supreme Court in the civil appeal No(s). 5272/2016 titled as Ka Hima Nongstoin land owners, Coal Traders and Producers Association vs. All Dimasa Students Union, Dima Hasao District Committee and others.
Earlier, the pressure groups were hopeful that NGT will surely take action in demanding for the restoration and rehabilitation of the impact due to the unscientific rat hole coal mining, whereas, in its Order relating to restoration of the environment and rehabilitation of those affected by the ban, an Independent Committee will be constituted headed by the by former Judge of the High Court, Justice B.P. Katoki along with representatives from the Central Pollution Control Board and Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad.
It may be reminded that Supreme Court in civil appeal diary no. 3067/2018 titled as lber laloo vs. All Dimasa Students Union, Dima Hasao district committee and others. The NGT hence stated that with regards to allowing coal mining in the state and mining policy, mining plan etc, the issue has already been raised in civil appeal diary as mentioned and the same will depend on the outcome of the case.
It may me mentioned that the NGT banned was imposed when the demand for the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP), but due to the banned, the mining villages have turned into a ghost town, where all stall for tea and food were shutdown, the migrants labours have left the state, without the use of ILP, where as the work of restoration is untouched till date.
On the other hand, the state is facing the issues of proper dumping ground, yet the authority seems to be lost and failed to streamline, although the main intension could be to provide employment by waste collection in respective localities in the state capital of Meghalaya but the unsystematic means of collection and timings have turned the prospect of discarding garbage in Shillong city into a nightmare for many. With the only option of throwing garbage in the lanes and bye-lane of other localities, Shillong has been ranked 276 in Swachh Survekshan 2017 and placed 8th in North Eastern Region.
In parameters like Municipal Self Declaration, Shillong scored 248 against a national average of 411. In the on-site observation, Shillong got 320 marks against national average of 276, citizen feedback – 270 against national average of 301, solid waste collection and transportation – 209 whereas Imphal received the highest national score of 360 with national average being 224, solid waste processing & disposal – just 39 against national average of 47 with Pimpri-Chinchwad scoring the highest with 180 marks.
The Delhi High Court (HC) on January 28, 2015 pulled up the Deputy Commissioners of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for the failure to keep the national capital clean. The court while slamming the authorities of civic bodies asked whether they feel pain when they go around in their areas and see litter on the roads. The Division bench of Justices B.D. Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva wondered how Delhi would become a world class city when it is not even an Asia class city.
The court also added the Central Government, New Delhi Municipal Council, Public Works Department, Delhi Cantonment Board and Delhi Jal Board as parties in the case and issued notices to them. It also asked civic bodies to file a status report on the sanitation issue in the capital. The court was hearing a Public-Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Nyaya Bhoomi on the poor state of public toilets, infrastructure and facilities in health and educational institutions in Delhi.
Meghalaya is in a no better situation, be it the pollution of Wahumkharah and Umshyrpi Rivers or the stones and sand quarries in Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, Ri Bhoi or Garo Hills. Dumping grounds in Jaintia Hills, Khasi Hills and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on rat hole coal mining is yet to get the attention of the district administrations for immediate attention.
The next issue of concern is earth cutting after the massive landslide that blocked the Highway for over 20 hours and claimed a life, forcing the Ri Bhoi district administration to issue a blanket ban on earth cutting. Where was the same authority when the cutting of hills was taking place for the four laneing of the Highway? Such unscientific soil cutting was pointed out by various quarters including the media, yet the district administration refused to act. The Agency engaged for this earth cutting should be booked for the loss of an innocent life.
Former Chief Minister Dr Mukul Manda Sangma, after visiting the flood affected areas in the plain belts of Garo Hills had ordered the district administration to file an FIR against the people involved in wanton destruction of river banks for the purpose of mining stones. Once again where are the concerned authorities including the Nokmas (village heads) while the mining was taking place?
All the three incidents are akin to a screen play in Bollywood movies where the police personnel will arrive at the scene after the crime has been committed and the criminals have fled. Prior to that the district administration, judiciary and government are either too occupied in keeping their chairs or dozing off, hence failing to tackle the situation before it totally ruins the environment and also the livelihood of the tribals.
Narendra Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ or clean Indian concept was also launched in Meghalaya, but only on October 2 and the following two days were more for group photographs and public gatherings. After that the entire city was back to its normal routine of garbage strewn all over the city. While the Green and Clean Shillong slogan was raised years ago, it has had no effect with the ground reality turning from bad to worse. It is time for the Meghalaya High Court to take a cue from the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court and pull up the government machinery for its failure to clean up Meghalaya.
The restoration could have taken in all such incidents and more, where the district administration, civic bodies and the Swachh Bharat could all come together, and cleanup all the dumping ground and refilled all the waste into the rat hole mine, which will be the win- win situation for all. Such a blueprint for cleaning up the state with special emphasis on restoration of the rat-hole mines is also important, besides adopting some scientific mining to appeal before the NGT such that coal mining could be resumed in Meghalaya.