SHILLONG, Feb 2 (PTI): The Meghalaya High Court has directed state chief secretary D P Wahlang to confiscate assets of government officers involved in “flagrant operation” of illegal coke plants in the state.
Hearing a PIL, the HC division bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee directed Wahlang to also file an action taken report against “erring officers” promoting illegal mining of coal in the hill state.
“The chief secretary will file a report at the first sitting of the Court on February 3, 2023 as to the action taken against the erring officers, including notices of suspension, initiation of departmental proceedings, sequestration of assets and the like for the flagrant operation of illegal coke plants,” the HC bench said in its order.
“The chief secretary will carry the report to the Court and remain personally liable for any illegal mining of coal or illegal operation of any coke plant in the State,” it directed. The remainder of the matter will be considered after receipt of the report, the bench said.
The deputy commissioner of West Khasi Hills had in an affidavit filed on January 27 informed that closure notice has been pasted on each of the 57 coke plants and an FIR has also been filed at Shallang police station.
The bench rejected the report saying, “It is completely unacceptable to this Court that a state government or its officers would be unaware of as many as 57 coke plants functioning in a clandestine manner during the night for such illegal plants to be shut down only pursuant to orders passed by this Court upon receipt of a public interest litigation.”
It said that it is the bounden duty of the state to ensure that no activity that requires a licence is carried on without it being obtained.
The state’s stand on illegal coal mining and functioning of illegal coke plants has been less than satisfactory, the court said.
Referring to a fresh petition on illegal coal mining in South Garo Hills, it said, “It is a matter of crying shame that despite orders of the Supreme Court, no less, a state of anarchy is brought about by the state government by flouting such orders and apparently actively aiding in the illegal mining of coal and the functioning of coke plants without licence in the state.
“The rampant functioning of illegal coke plants leads to the obvious inference of rampant illegal mining of coal in the state despite the state government’s assurance to the contrary”.
The affidavit by the DC also informed that in compliance with the directions of the court dated December 16, 2022, an order was issued for taking immediate steps to shut down all illegal coke plants operating in West Khasi Hills District.
The affidavit said it was found during raids that coke plants are operating during the night in remote areas clandestinely. These were immediately shut down and raw coal and finished product in the form of coke found at the site was seized in-situ.
The quantity is being determined per plant wise. On its completion the coal and finished coke will be confiscated and disposed of in accordance with the law as per Section 21 of the MMDR Act, 1957, it said.
Equipment found at the site was also confiscated and will be proceeded with in accordance with law, the affidavit said.
The materials were seized at the site as time is required to transport them to government depots. They are presently lying on site in the district administration’s custody and will be transported after determination of quantity in due course of time, it said.
Since the blanket ban on mining and transportation of coal in 2014 by NGT, clandestine illegal mining has taken place and several cases of violations were filed.
The next hearing will be held on February 3.