The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Friday maintained its ban on coal mining in Meghalaya, contending that right to life was far more significant than economic interest and the latter cannot be allowed to gain preference.
The observation was made at the Meghalaya High Court as the tribunal's special circuit bench, eastern zone, comprising chairperson Justice (retd.) Swatanter Kumar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee conducted a hearing on issues relating to coal mining in the state.
The green court, which continued with its April 17 interim order banning rat-hole coal mining, but allowed transportation of extracted coal kept in the open till June 9, maintained that there was no prejudice while protecting the environment.
The April 17 order came after the All Dimasa Students' Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee filed an application before the tribunal alleging that the water in the Kopili river was turning acidic due to coal mining in Jaintia Hills.
"Article 21 of the Constitution gives predominance to right to life than any other interests including economic interest. In the largest democracy of the world, we cannot permit economic interest to be preferred over to right to life and live in a healthy environment just because the activity should be allowed to carry on," said Justice Swatanter Kumar on unscientific coal mining in the state.
Mining activities in Meghalaya are controlled by the state's indigenous people who own the land. The coal is extracted by a primitive surface mining method called "rat hole" mining that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits ranging from five to 100 sq.m. to reach the coal seams. Workers and children go deep into these holes to extract the coal using primitive tools such as pickaxes, shovels and buckets.
There are many disadvantages caused by unscientific rat-hole mining which not only affect the environment and ecology but also seriously affect rivers and streams and groundwater, Justice Swatanter Kumar added.
Disbanding the previous committee constituted by it on June 9 after it failed to comply with the tribunal's directives, the NGT set up a new panel to be headed by Meghalaya Additional Chief Secretary K.S.Kropha to implement its directives on transportation of extracted coal lying in the depots across the state, besides framing comprehensive guidelines for its clearance.
The other members of the panel are Principal Secretary (Forest and Environment) M.S. Rao, a senior scientist of the Central Pollution Control Board who has not been deputed to any of the north eastern states, the member secretary of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and a professor to be nominated by IIT Guwahati having expertise in mining.
The tribunal also directed the Kropha committee to meet within one week from Friday and to provide a complete picture of the extracted coal lying in various mining sites in the state.
Within two weeks, comprehensive guidelines on removal and transportation of extracted coal should be uploaded on the website of the Meghalaya government and circulated to the deputy commissioners, superintendents of police of various districts and mining organisations, it ordered.
After two weeks, the tribunal stated that the government can allow removal of coal subject to strict adherence to guidelines framed by the committee.
The tribunal will conduct its next hearing here Oct 7 and 8.