Supreme Court asks Meghalaya to deposit Rs 100 cr fine for illegal coal mining [03-07-2019]

New Delhi:- The Supreme Court slapped a Rs 100 crore fine on the Meghalaya government, for failing in its constitutional obligation to provide the citizenry with clean air and water, and allowing illegal mining to pollute rivers and air. The court, however, allowed mining to resume.

The National Green Tribunal had on January 4 banned rat-hole mining Meghalaya, after a flooding in a mine led to several deaths, bringing all mining to a virtual halt in the state. On Wednesday, a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and KM Joseph allowed mining to resume as per leases.

The court also said that the tribal people who owned the land would also own the minerals therein. They would be entitled under the law to sign leases allowing others to extract the minerals and the state government would give consent to this, it said. In case of coal, the Centre’s prior permission will be required. The court said mining in the state cannot go beyond the law in the rest of the country.

The Mining and Minerals Act and the Mineral Concessions Act will also be applicable in the state, it said. It cited an earlier Kerala ruling to argue that the process of granting a lease in case of an individual would be different from that of land owned by the state.

A mining lease would be mandatory for mining, it said. Rat-hole mining or traditional mining mostly involved private owners mining their own lands without any leases or proper safety measures.

As a result, accidents were frequent, but no compensation was forthcoming for the victims.

The court ordered the state to deposit the penalty amount of Rs 100 crore with the Central Pollution Control Board. It will be utilised to restore the affected rivers and help improve the air quality in the state.

The NGT had earlier directed setting up of a green fund, which has now crossed Rs 433 crore.

The top court did not agree with the NGT ruling that the ownership of all illegally extracted minerals so far would automatically vest with the government.

Instead, the court directed that these be disposed of by Coal India NSE 0.40 % and shared by all parties— the state which deserves royalty and the landowners.

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04 Jul 2019