Victory for Conrad Sangma government, SC allows coal mining operation in Meghalaya

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph directed the state administration to hand over the illegally extracted coal to Coal India Limited.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

GUWAHATI: Seen as a victory of Meghalaya government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday passed an order allowing coal mining operation in the state but subject to compliance with provisions of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 and permission granted by the landowners.

The court directed the Meghalaya government to pay penalty of Rs.100 crore as imposed by National Green Tribunal (NGT). The government will pay the fine with money already collected from illegal miners and transporters of illegally-mined coal as penalties.

The SC order, which made the ban on coal mining imposed by the NGT in 2014 irrelevant, assumes significance given last year’s tragedy in an illegal rat-hole mine in the state that claimed the lives of several miners.

Describing the SC judgement as “landmark and historic”, the Meghalaya government said it had argued in the court for protection of the rights of the state’s indigenous tribals.

“It was specifically contended that the tribals have the right over land, and they possess proprietary rights over extracted mineral. The said contention has been emphatically upheld by the Supreme Court,” an official release said. 

The SC directed Coal India Ltd. to auction the coal already extracted and remit the proceeds of auction to the state government which will in turn remit the same to lawful owners of the coal. 

“…Mining in tribal lands shall be permitted subject to requisite permissions from the owners of tribal land and with approved mining plan. Therefore, the state can look towards the future by initiating scientific mining practices under the regulatory framework,” the release said. 

It added that the SC judgement was a victory in the government’s efforts to bolster and protect the rights of the state’s tribals and all stake-holders who were suffering due to the ban on coal mining imposed by the NGT. 

Chief Minister Conrad Sangma hailed the judgement. He said the most important part of the judgment was that tribal rights had been recognised.

“…What we have been made to understand is that the ban that was put in by the NGT has been set aside by the SC…The fact that SC has come out with a judgment which states that the land and the resources are of the owners is landmark and historic as it gives back the entire ownership to the people. This is the biggest victory,” he said.

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The New Indian Express