State govt failed to check illegal activities: HC

April 13, 2023 by MT Bureau

The Meghalaya High Court today said the failure to check overloaded vehicles points to the state government being a party to the illegal mining and transportation of coal in flagrant disregard of orders passed by the Supreme Court.

Hearing a PIL, the division bench said, “There are several other matters pertaining to the illegal transportation of coal, the failure on the part of the State government to check overloaded vehicles and the like: all of which point to the State government being a party to the illegal mining and transportation of the coal in flagrant disregard of orders passed by the Supreme Court, no less.”

The PIL was filed by one Champer M. Sangma.

It said that the malaise has not been arrested and it has prompted the Court, in the suo motu proceedings, to ascertain whether some Central Armed Police Forces may be engaged to undertake the checking activities.

“There may not be any illegal mining if there is no transportation of such coal and illegal transportation can be checked by police on roads and easily arrested if there was the right intent on the part of the State,” the Court said.

The Court said it appears that several persons have sought to take advantage of the fact that the previously illegally mined coal had been dumped in many places with directions issued by the Supreme Court for its disposal.

It added that until orders were made in the suo motu proceedings instituted in the year 2022, the State had taken no steps to ensure that the previously illegally mined coal till the year 2016 was disposed of.

As a result, fresh coal continued to be illegally mined and dumped in open public view with the State claiming that such coal may have been a part of the previously illegally mined coal.

Mining operations continued in open view and maybe still continue with the State ignoring orders of this Court and orders already in place from the year 2016.

The Court said though the previously illegally mined coal has now been directed to be sold through auction and in the presence of Coal India Limited by a retired Judge appointed for such purpose by this Court, the quantum of coal available appears to be much more than available in 2016.

Further, the Court said that a new method appears to have been put in place where a lot of coal is exported through Gasuapara with such coal being apparently obtained from outside the State.

The object of the exercise in the present petition is to demonstrate that most of the coal recently exported through the Gasuapara LCS has only been coal that has been illegally mined in the State with forged documents showing that such coal has been brought in from elsewhere.

The petitioner claimed that respondent No.14 has no document to show the origin of the coal that was in its possession in April, 2021 when it sought permission to export the same through the Gasuapara LCS.

Directions issued by the Court for respondent No.14 to file its affidavit in such regard has resulted in the documents of Bittu Coal Traders and Vaishno Devi Traders Private Limited being relied upon, despite it being obvious that Bittu Coal Traders, Vaishno Devi Traders Private Limited and Jaimaa Coal Private Limited are, in effect, one and the same entity as they are controlled by the same human agency.

The petitioner complained that queries raised with the State Departments under the said Act of 2005 have fallen on deaf ears despite appeals being carried. The circumstances are such that an adverse reference may rightly be drawn by the Court that the State is averse to the truth coming out and has sought to filibuster the attempt by the petitioner to demonstrate that most of the coal exported through the Gasuapara LCS has been the illegally mined coal in the State and not coal emanating from outside the State.

Additional Advocate-General appearing for the State submitted that as far as the State is concerned, it only looks at an e-way bill or invoice which is produced by the would-be exporter to indicate the source from which the would-be exporter obtained the coal.

According to the State, it has no duty at all to ascertain the origin of the coal once an apparent valid invoice is presented.

The Court said, “In the light of repeated orders of this Court to the effect that Supreme Court orders were being violated by the State not arresting the illegal mining of coal, the State ought to have been more alive to the fact that internally mined coal may be attempted to be exported by seeking to claim that such coal had been obtained from elsewhere. However, if the State itself is involved in the process, which appears to be the more likely scenario, then the State would hide behind the specious excuse now proffered that it allows transaction by looking at the documents produced without seeking to ascertain the veracity thereof.”

“On the other hand, the State of Assam has expressed its doubts as to the genuineness of the business conducted by respondent No.14 and, whatever steps may or may not have been taken pursuant thereto, at least a nominal FIR has been lodged.

Not even so much appears to have been done by the State of Meghalaya in the matter of arresting the illegal mining of coal in the State,” the court said.