The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a set of pleas by coal miners in Meghalaya to let trucks move coal in transit before a transportation ban came into effect.
The deadline for transportation of extracted coal was being extended since April 2014 when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had imposed a ban on the life-threatening rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya. A narrow opening that makes miners crawl gives the rat-hole its name.
But after at least 16 miners were trapped in a flooded mine at Ksan in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district on December 13, the apex court refused to allow the transportation of extracted and assessed coal beyond January 31. On January 15, the court further said there would be no transportation of coal lying at (dumping) sites.
The State Co-ordination Committee of Coal Miners and Dealers’ Forum had subsequently filed a petition for allowing their trucks that were in transit as on January 15 to transport their coal and also to pass through government check posts and weighbridges to their respective destinations.
Rejecting the plea on Monday, the court did not entertain the entreaty of another coal dealer named Babul Marak who wanted to transport coal he had procured legally from a dealer.
The court of Justice duo D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta also saw “no reason to entertain” a petition by one Lber Laloo for lifting the ban on coal mining by NGT “in view of a previous order” on January 28.
The Supreme Court hearing coincided with Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma informing the 60-member State Assembly that more than 1,000 cases of illegal coal mining have been registered since the NGT ban came into effect.
From 203 in 2014, the number of such cases jumped to 541 in 2015 and slumped to 117 in 2016. There were 274 and 163 registered cases in 2017 and 2018 respectively, the Chief Minister said.
Death in coal truck
Monday saw an overloaded coal truck capsize in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, reportedly killing four people inside it. The mishap in the Sutnga area near the district headquarters Khliehriat, anti-coal mining activists said, exposed the laxity of the local authorities in dealing with illegal transportation of coal.
According to district Superintendent of Police V. Singh, the driver of the truck had lost control because of high speed. But he said the local police not find bodies at the spot and did not specify what the truck was carrying.
The Shillong Times quoted local people as saying that the district heads, including the Deputy Commissioner rushed to the spot after the mishap and did not allow them to take photographs. They also claimed they were warned against speaking about the accident to anyone.