New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that state was under constitutional obligation to provide clean air and water to the people and should act as a facilitator and not as obstructionist in matters pertaining to environment, as it slapped Rs 100 crore fine on Meghalaya to be deposited with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for restoration of environment.
“The state government is under constitutional obligation to ensure clean environment to all its citizens. In cases pertaining to environmental matter, the state has to act as facilitator and not as obstructionist”, said Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice K.M. Joseph in their judgment on Wednesday.
Directing Meghalaya government to deposit with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Rs 100 crores that it had collected from miners and transporters as environment charge so that the money could be used for the restoration of environment, the top court thrashed the state government’s stand that NGT had no jurisdiction.
In a number of directions passed today, the court said that all illegally mined coal since May 15, 2016 lying in different districts of the state “shall be handed over to Coal India Ltd. for proper disposal” through auction.
The amount, which has been directed to be deposited with the CPCB is “neither a penalty nor a fine imposed” on Meghalaya, the top court clarified. Having held that Meghalaya government has to act as a facilitator and not as an obstructionist, the court said, “The allegations of environmental degradation by illegal and unregulated coal mining were fully proved from materials on the record, including the report of the experts, report of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board, the report of Katakey committee, which all proved environmental degradation of water, air and surface.”
The judgment pronounced today said that the Katakey Committee after discussion with Coal India would formulate mechanism for transporting, weighing of all assessed coal. The NGT had set up a committee headed by Justice B.P. Katakey — former retired judge of Gauhati high court — with representatives from Central Pollution Control Board and Dhanbad based Indian School of Mines, to make recommendation for the restoration of the environment and rehabilitation of the victim for which funds were available.
The Coal India was directed to auction the coal as “per its best judgment” and remit the proceed to Meghalaya. As per its directions, the court today said that all coal seized by the state for which cases have already been registered “shall be dealt by the state in accordance with Section 21 of 1957 Act.”
However, top court clarified that the coal extracted and lying in open since May 15, 2016, “does not automatically vest in the state of Meghalaya and the owner of the coal or the person who has mined the coal shall have the proprietary right in the mineral which shall not be lost.”
Recognizing the rights of the people in the hills districts of Meghalaya, not only over the land they possess but also on the sub-soil mineral resources, the court said, “The private owners of the land as well as community owners have both the surface right as well as sub-soil rights.”
In hill districts of Meghalaya for “carrying coal mining operations in privately owned/community owned land, it is not the state government which shall grant the mining lease, but it is the private owner/community owner of the land, who is also the owner of the mineral, who shall grant lease for mining of coal” as per provisions of law, the court said....