New Delhi The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Meghalaya government to deposit a fine of Rs 100 crore, imposed on it by the NGT for failing to curb illegal coal mining, with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and KM Joseph directed the state administration to hand over the illegally extracted coal to Coal India Limited (CIL). The coal will be auctioned and the funds with the state government.
The top court also allowed the mining operation to go on in Meghalaya on the privately and community owned land subject to the permissions from the concerned authorities.
Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma hailed the order allowing mining operations in privately and community owned land in the state, subject to the permissions from the concerned authorities. The judgment is the victory of the people, specially of the tribal community and its most important part is that the tribal rights have been recognised, he said.
"The fact that the Supreme Court 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," the chief minister said in a statement here.
"This is the biggest victory, biggest aspect of the judgment as a whole," he said.
Sangma said his government is yet to receive the official judgement but "from the basic gist we have been made to understand that the ban that was put in place by the National Green Tribunal has been set aside by the Supreme Court".
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had fined Meghalaya government on January 4. The state government had accepted that a large number of mines were operating illegally.
A report of a three-member committee, headed by retired Justice B P Kakoti of Gauhati High Court, had stated that there were around 24,000 mines in Meghalaya and majority of them were operating illegally.
It had also said that not only were there no licences or leases, but also no environmental clearance for operation of majority of the coal mines.
The NGT had constituted the committee in August 2018 to supervise and look into the issue of environmental restoration plan and other connected matters in Meghalaya.
The committee was constituted during the hearing of the petition which had sought a ban on coal mining in Meghalaya. It had also taken into account some reports of the state pollution control board.
A total of 15 miners were trapped on December 13 last year in an illegal coal mine at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest, when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it.
Only two bodies could be recovered from the mine.
The apex court had earlier refused to allow the transportation of extracted coal lying across Meghalaya despite several requests by the miners
(With PTI inputs)