The Meghalaya High Court said over 13 million tonne (MT) of coal was illegally mined, transported and discovered which the State sought to pass off as coal mined prior to the imposition of the ban on coal mining.

The court said Justice Katakey report on the reassessed coal available at depots across four districts – East Jaintia Hills, West Khasi Hills, South Garo Hills and South West Khasi Hills stated that 19,54, 250 MT of coal was available in the State as compared to a September report by Chief Secretary DP Wahlang who stated that 32.56 MT of coal was available for auction.

"What is apparent is that in addition to the previously illegally mined coal measuring approximately 19,54,259 MT, a further 13 lakh MT of coal was illegally mined, transported and discovered which the State sought to pass off as coal mined prior to the imposition of the ban," a full 3-member division bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee which heard an PIL on Wednesday said in an order.

"There is, no doubt, further amounts of coal (will be available), in addition to the total quantity of 32.56 lakh MT as indicated in the chief secretary's report of September 20, 2022," the order stated, adding that "it is evident that the State continues to play fast and loose with the court." The court also wanted Justice Katakey, who suggested drone videography on December 2, to expedite the same.

The next hearing on the matter will be held on February 7.

Court order

The High Court also issued a contempt order against East Jaintia Hills Superintendent of Police (SP) after a report revealed illegal mining of coal being carried out in the district.

Justice BP Katakey had sought a report from the district Deputy Commissioner based on a news report stating that "wonder caves in Jaintia Hills are at risk from rampant mining".

The report furnished by the Deputy Commissioner on December 3, revealed attempts at illegal mining of coal in the recent past including blasting that has endangered the Krem Liat Prah cave situated at Shnongriam village, the court stated.

The district administration had also reported that directions have been issued to the relevant Magistrate to undertake frequent inspections and to impose prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

"It, thus, appears that despite the several orders of this court issued as a consequence of the ban imposed by the NGT as upheld by the Supreme Court, illegal mining of coal continues in the state with, possible, state participation and even encouragement," the court said.

It accordingly directed, "Since previous orders of this Court had indicated that the relevant Superintendent of Police would be held in contempt if illegal mining or transportation of illegally mined coal was discovered within his jurisdiction, let a rule of contempt be issued against the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills based on the report dated December 3, 2022 filed by the Deputy Commissioner of the same district." The high court has also observed that there is a further point which finds mention in the report of Katakey and needs to be noticed.

According to the information furnished by the Mining and Geology secretary, a large number of coke oven plants and ferro alloys plants are operating in the State but only a limited few have both consent to establish and consent to operate granted by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board.

Apart from the fact that several coke ovens and ferro alloys plants are operational without due permission, the source of coal at these plants has neither been identified nor reported on by the state, the court observed.

"This has to be immediately done and both the Secretary in the Mining and Geology and the Chief Secretary will be responsible in such regard", the court added.

The High Court Bench also instructed Justice Katakey to oversee the transportation and sale of the reassessed coal and any further quantity that may be seized by the State as a consequence of the illegal mining that continues.

On the additional direction issued by Justice Katakey to fit the vehicles transporting the coal via with GPS devices, the state government said all vehicles have now been fitted with the device.

"It is expected that by the end of December, 2022, the bar-chart in such regard would be adhered to," the order said.