New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Meghalaya government to deposit Rs 100 crore as directed by the NGT for failing to curb illegal coal mining, saying that natural resources should be conserved so that it may be used in the best interest for coming generations.
"Natural resources of the country are not meant to be consumed only by the present generation of men or women of the region where natural resources are deposited. These treasures of nature are for all generations to come and for intelligent use of the entire country," the bench said in its 203-page-order.
"The present generation owes a duty to preserve and conserve the natural resources of the nation so that it may be used in the best interest of coming generations as well and for the country as a whole."
The court said that Meghalaya government will transfer the amount of Rs 100 crore to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) from the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund and this will be used by CPCB for restoration of environment.
It also said that the amount, which the National Green Tribunal has directed Meghalaya to deposit, is not a penalty.
A bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice K.M. Joseph also directed the state to hand over the illegally-extracted coal to Coal India Ltd, which will auction it and deposit the money earned with the state government.
The Katakey Committee, after discussion with Coal India and Meghalaya, shall formulate a mechanism for transport, weighment of all assessed coal, the court said while accepting suggestion of amicus curiae Colin Gonsalves.
Gonsalves said that entire extracted coal lying at various places be directed to be taken over by Coal India and may dispose of as per its normal method of disposal.
The NGT had fined the Meghalaya government after taking note of a three-member committee's report which stated that there were around 24,000 mines in Meghalaya and a majority of them were illegal.
Earlier the top court banned the transportation of coal in the wake of a coal mine tragedy in the state in December last year.
The bench on Wednesday observed that the NGT's direction came as measures to to check and combat the unregulated coal mining in tribal areas of Meghalaya which has caused loss of lives and damaged the environment of the area.
It also noted that the Gauhati High Court has taken suo moto cognisance on the news report related to death of 15 miners out of 30 labourers who were trapping inside a coal mine at Nongalbibra in the South Garo Hill in 2012.
The Gauhati High Court later transferred the matter to the NGT.
The top court observed that there were clear allegations in the application that in spite of various remedial measures set out in the report, no proper and effective remedial measures have been taken by authorities concerned.
Senior counsel Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Meghalaya, has said that the NGT committed an error in holding that the coal mining in Meghalaya is unregulated, while senior advocate Nidhesh Gupta said that the the coal which is now claimed to be assessed is nothing but illegally-extracted coal and Meghalaya administration is hand in glove with illegal miners.
The court, while turning down the plea of Meghalaya, said that while implementing statutory regime for carrying mining operations in the hills district of the state, Meghalaya has to ensure compliance of not only Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, (MMDR Act), 1957 but the Mines Act, 1952 as well as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
The court also directed that all coal seized by the state for which cases have already been registered shall be dealt by the state in accordance with the MMDR Act.
The court noted that in the course of rat-hole coal mining, several employees and workers have died due to water flooding. It also held that transportation of coal in an illegal, unregulated, indiscriminate and unscientific manner has resulted in serious diseases to the people.