Coal issue: State as offender

The illegal mining of coal has never stopped since 2014 when the National Green Tribunal banned rat hole mining on account of the pollution it was causing to downstream residents in Assam who depend on rivers flowing from Jaintia Hills for their sustenance. Also rat hole mining violates the human rights of coal miners, many of whom have been buried alive due to sudden flooding of mines. Many of these cases have gone unreported until 15 coal miners were buried alive inside a coal mine in Ksan, East Jaintia Hills in November 2018. Since then the NGT has tried in vain to bring to light the illegal coal mining which flouts all environmental norms and violates the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act 1957. This Act was further amended in March 2021 thereby lowering the bar in mining regulations. The amended Act removes the distinction between captive mines reserved for end use and non-captive mines. The Act allows captive mines to sell up to 50% of annual mineral production in the open market after meeting their own needs.
Further there is provision for a statutory body- the National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET) which will oversee the functioning of the mining sector. The Act introduces an index-based mechanism by developing a National Mineral Index (NMI) to be used for various statutory payments and for future auctions. In the old Act when the mining lease is transferred to a new lessee the statutory clearances issued to the previous lessee are transferred for a period of two years only. The new lessee needs to obtain fresh clearances within the two years. The amended Act changes this provision. It makes the transferred statutory clearances valid throughout the lease period of the new lessee.
Under the amended Act the participation of private players in mining operations with enhanced technology is permitted. Most importantly, if the State Government is not able to complete the auction process within a specified time, the Central Government may take over and conduct such an auction. The Act also says that mines (other than coal, lignite, and atomic minerals) whose lease has expired, may be allocated to a government company in certain cases.With so many concessions having been made it is ironic that the Government of Meghalaya is resistant to adopting the MMDR Act and legalising the coal trade simply because it wants to appease the coal mafia in the Government. Even the continued operation of the coke units and ferro-alloy plants show that coal is being mined illegally and that all presentations made before the High Court are facetious. When the State turns rogue the judiciary has to blow the whistle.

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