The Meghalaya government “willfully” and “actively colluded in helping coal miners” to illegally extract coal and transport it, in “blatant violation of both the National Green Tribunal and Supreme Court orders”, says a Citizens’ Report, prepared by a group of 22 activists, that was submitted to the Supreme Court on January 7.
The second part of the Citizens’ Report, “How and why unregulated & illegal coal mining in Meghalaya continued even after the orders of National Green Tribunal & Hon’ble Supreme Court of India?”, comes over three weeks after at least 15 workers were trapped while mining coal using the “rat-hole technique” in East Jaintia Hills district on December 13. They are feared dead now, even as rescue operations continue.
The first part of the report, submitted to the Supreme Court in the first week of December, had named about a dozen politicians who allegedly own coal mines themselves or have relatives who are coal miners.
The rat-hole mining technique — which is followed by most mines in the state — was banned by the NGT in 2014. The 380-page second part of the Citizens’ Report highlights how the ban is flouted, and analyses scores of public documents, including reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), orders of the NGT and Supreme Court, government documents and estimates of coal to establish an alleged collusion between the state machinery and the coal mining lobby.
When contacted, Meghalaya Chief Secretary Y Tsering told The Indian Express, “The Meghalaya government has been very strict against illegal coal mining. We have registered a large number of cases, both against illegal mining and illegal transportation. Equipment has been seized in large numbers. But the problem is there are a large number of mines spread over very remote areas of several districts and, sometimes it becomes difficult for us to track them. Some individuals, in collusion with coal miners, have been extracting coal illegally perhaps.”
The Citizens’ Report questions how, from October 8, 2014, to December 5, 2018, the government’s estimates of the quantum of coal extracted prior to the 2014 ban on fresh mining were revised upwards. The revised estimates (of coal extracted before the 2014 ban and yet to be transported) led the NGT and SC to extend the period for legal transportation of the coal nine times — the latest deadline is January 31, 2019.
“These examples of blatant violations of both the National Green Tribunal orders and Hon’ble Supreme Court orders by the coal miners becomes much more galling if one sees it in the context of wilful collusion by Government of Meghalaya in the illegalities. Rather than work towards finding ways to implement the orders by the Tribunal, Govt. of Meghalaya has been bending over backwards to accommodate the whims and fancies of its minuscule minority of coal barons,” it says.
On the successive extensions granted for transportation, the report says, “But the coal miners and transporters, wilfully assisted by the government, via its misleading representations to the Tribunal, kept getting transportation orders extended. In total, from the time of the interim ban till date, 57 months and 15 days, coal miners have got 32 months, 1 week and 5 days of transportation period.”
The report cites the CAG reports of 2013 and 2014 to illustrate how they “succinctly point to the immensity of illegality and criminality underpinning coal mining in Meghalaya and the government’s willful participation in this illegality leading to the major revenue loss to the public exchequer”.
It quotes the 2014 CAG report as saying: “During the last five years (including the current year’s report), we have pointed out non/ short levy, non/ short realisation, underassessment/ loss of revenue, incorrect exemption, concealment/ suppression of turnover, application of incorrect rate of tax, incorrect computation etc., with revenue implication of Rs 959.26 crore in 28 paragraphs.”
“The second volume focusses on how the state’s mining lobby has misled institutions like the NGT and the courts. The extension of the transportation period has been taken advantage of for illegal mining. On the other hand, although they keep talking of livelihood and income for the state, there has been massive pilferage, because the mining has never been properly taxed according to the norms. There has been loot,” Angela Rangad, one of the signatories of the report, told The Indian Express.
The next hearing of the case in the Supreme Court is on January 15.