Much talked about, two volumes of “Curse of Unregulated Coal Mining in Meghalaya” were put together by a motley group of activists, researchers dismayed by the murderous attack on Kong Agnes Kharshiing & Amita Sangma by coal mine owners, traders and transporters. Agnes & Amita had been tracing the source of illegal coal mining in violation of National Green Tribunal orders imposing an interim ban on environmentally destructive, unscientific rat hole coal mining in Meghalaya. The first report was submitted to Mr. Colin Gonsalves, who had been appointed Amicus Curea by the Supreme Court in the various appeals challenging the interim ban on unscientific and unregulated ‘rat hole’ mining in Meghalaya imposed by the National Green Tribunal. This first report, subtitled as “How Unregulated & Illegal Coal Mining in Meghalaya is Destroying Environment and Dispossessing Tribal People of their Land and Livelihood” examines the claims about livelihood and tribal autonomy made by Coal Mine owners and Government of Meghalaya. The second report looks at how unregulated & illegal Coal Mining in Meghalaya continued even after the orders of National Green Tribunal & Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
These voluminous reports (626+379 pages) are based on many existing peer reviewed research papers, news reports, publicly available government documents, Audit reports and civil society experiences. Don’t be thrown off by the size of the reports because major part of the report are annexes full of news reports, essays, Audit reports, government notifications etc. Although the annexes help you to get the context of many claims made in the report, the operative parts of the report are the first 73 and 78 pages of the respective volumes.
Just to help you get the taste of the report we have extracted the introductions and the suggestions from the report. And yes, you can download the report and if you want to endorse the report please put your name and address in the comments.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 1
Meghalaya has a resource curse. Although, we have been endowed with abundant forests and minerals, these resources have not contributed to the good of our society, because they have been extracted without any regulation or concern for the larger common good. This unregulated, narrow, self-interest based use of natural resources has exacerbated socio-economic inequality, destroyed the environment, heightened criminality, and torn asunder our egalitarian tribal social fabric.
It also violates Section 39(b) of the Constitution which provides that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community should be so distributed so as to best subserve the common good and, therefore, the State cannot distribute the material resource of the community in any way it likes. The process of distribution must be guided by the constitutional principles including the doctrine of equality and larger public good.
The National Green Tribunal’s landmark order regarding Unregulated and illegal coal mining in our state therefore came as a wake up call for Meghalaya society at large. This order has been criticised and appealed against by a small section of locals most of who are coal mine owners, transporters, politicians and administrators who have ‘illegally’ benefitted out of this unregulated mining and who want things to get back to business as usual. Coal Miners and politicians who are miners, truck owners, weigh bridge operators etc. have even filed appeals with the Honourable Supreme Court, asking the hon’ble court to rescind NGT orders so that mining can once again begin. They are claiming that NGT orders have:
1) Taken away livelihood of a large number of people.
2) NGT has overstepped its jurisdiction by passing orders about resource and land use in Meghalaya, where the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution ‘supposedly’ exempts local miners from the purview of existing national regulatory laws on mining, environment and labour.
3) They also mean to convince the court that Sixth Schedule protection for tribal community as envisaged in the Indian Constitution means that it allows Tribal individuals to circumvent community values of commons.
The protection guaranteed by the constitution for us tribals is not as the Coal Miners and Transporters are claiming. Their claims are not based on social, legal and historical reality.
We hope that the Hon’ble Supreme Court will look into the existing realities of Meghalaya, its problems, illegalities and come to a decision which is rooted in the concept of Larger Common Good and communitarian ideals that the 6th schedule seeks to protect and to enable a situation where natural resources contributes to an equitable development for all while protecting and reviving Meghalaya’s ecology.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 2
It is sad to see that our state Meghalaya appears in National and International news not because of our unique ecology, our vibrant community culture or our material heritage, but because of the shocking behavior of our Mining Barons and an apathetic state which lets the lives of poor coal labourers be bought and sold for profiting the few and the dispossession of land, resources and livelihoods of the indigenous community by the coal mafia. If trapped coal labourers was not enough, you have the mining mafia chasing and attempting to lynch activists who question illegalities, or honest Police officers who try to implement the rule of Law being shot dead. Meghalaya truly has a resource curse.
Over the years, we, the citizens of Meghalaya have watched helplessly the large scale destruction of our ecology through indiscriminate environmentally destructive mining and the grabbing of community land. For most of us indigenous tribal Meghalayans, this was not the development paradigm we had fought for. When the Constitution of India gave our tribal communitarian values protection under the Sixth Schedule, it did not forsee the misuse of such a protection by a small section of local tribal elite to defend their criminal appropriation of the commons and communitarian resources like land, water, forests and minerals. This unchecked illegal behavior by the small minority of the economic elite (mining barons) has had serious social consequences. Corruption, heightened criminality and violence, political influence peddling are just some of the common evils that plague our small tribal communities.
On 01/12/2018, we submitted a citizens report to the Honourable Supreme Court called,“CURSE OF UNREGULATED COAL MINING IN MEGHALAYA – Vol 1: How Unregulated & Illegal Coal Mining in Meghalaya is Destroying Environment and Dispossessing Tribal People of their Land and Livelihood”. This first report examined the claims about livelihood and tribal autonomy vis-à-vis coal mining. It looks at “How and Why Unregulated & Illegal Coal Mining in Meghalaya continued even after the orders of the National Green Tribunal & the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India?”
This current report (Vol. 2) is a continuation of the earlier report. We chose to put together these reports in the backdrop of the murderous attack on Kong Agnes Kharshiing & Amita Sangma by the Coal Mafia (coal mine owners that include public representatives, bureaucrats, administration, police) and leaders of self-styled non- state social groups and “NGOs” and the total state apathy around this attack.
Sadly in Meghalaya, there is an increasing capture of the state apparatus by the mining barons and their administrative cohorts. It is up to us the citizens to raise our voices to challenge this dangerous culture of impunity that is taking over our land.
When on the 17th April 2014, the National Green Tribunal issued its orders banning unregulated and unscientific ‘rat hole’ mining, there was a ray of hope for Meghalaya. But through legal maneuvers, administrative and political tricks played on behalf of the mining lobby, the intent and purpose of this historic order has been bent beyond recognition. We hope that this report will shine some light on the dark world that unregulated coal mining has wrought in our society and help citizens and judiciary to look for ways to dismantle the structures of illegality which is fast taking over our land.
With large number of deaths of coal mine labour, increasing public health crisis, destruction of the ecosystem and everyday criminality in the coal mining area, it is high time that we as a society take a strong position vis-à-vis unregulated coal mining in Meghalaya. It is time for protection of the larger common good as against giving relief to the few exploitative coal barons.
Summary of Suggestions
- Unregulated & Illegal Coal mining in Meghalaya has to stop completely and energy and livelihood that are climate friendly, need investment.
- Undermining and misleading of democratic institutions such as the NGT and the courts by the coal mafia to be taken seriously and responsibility fixed.
- All transportation orders rescinded and no further transportation of coal permitted.
- CBI inquiry into the attack on Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma Legal action to be taken against all the people, (including govt. officials) who are responsible for loss of revenue for the government as named in CAG Audit reports
- Coal Miners to pay for reclaiming all the coal mines and pits.
- Proper online computerized weighbridges and checkpoints
- All transport challans to be hologrammed and digitised
- No exemption from National regulatory laws for mining industry in Meghalaya.
- Unregulated mining in Meghalaya has resulted in serious environmental degradation and large scale violations of labour laws and livelihood disruptions because of flow of cheap labour brought in by coal miners. Strict enforcement of existing laws is urgently required. Till such time NGT monitired stay should continue.
- Subversion of traditional systems of land ownership of communitarian principles and laws of land use. 6th schedule accords rights to uphold this customary practice of community ownership of the commons and not private ownership. While arguments will be made that much of the land is private land, fact is it got converted to such under largescale cooption, and corruption of traditional structures of governance such and criminal intimidation. There is a need to freeze all land registraions in and around the mining areas till land holdings can be Court has to uphold NGT ruling on ban till proper regulatory framework on prospecting, granting of leases, granting of necessary clearances, environmentally sustainable mining, mine reclamation, land laws and labour laws are in placeascertained and area properly mapped to indicate forest land, community land etc.
- Absence of specifications and collusion in terms of dimensions of carriers and trucks, weighbridges and checkpoints and issuance of challans has meant a great loss to the Meghalaya State exchequer. It is only after NGT ban proper estimates of extracted coal, movement of trucks and penalty were estimated. Plugging of transportation and taxation loopholes is perhaps possible though use of GPS tracking systems , tagging and use of IT set ups to ensure transparency and tax compliance.
- Ensure that there is proper and standard processes for all operators.
- It is a fact that in spite of NGT ruling all around the state fresh mining of coal has continued and illegal transportation of coal also continues so it is imperative that court takes stock of this violation through real time satellite data.
- Plans have to be mine specific, within the larger state framework to ensure that there is proper and standard processes for all operators.
- It is crucial to have an independent Committee to be monitored by the Supreme Court with State offices to be able to withstand the conflicts of interest and to be able to implement and put in all the environmental compliances in Meghalaya.
- An immediate order to direct that all commercial vehicles plying into North East from bolero pickup, dumper, trucks 4, 6 wheel 12 wheel, 16 wheel etc be fitted with GPS so as to be able to track and figure out their entry and exit including mapping the weight as the National Highways cuts across Assam to Meghalaya to Mizoram to Tripura. Technology is available for this.
- Transport -Enforcement wing which is totally compromised should be made answerable to NGT Committee for Meghalaya. An independent IT firm should be asked to monitor the trucks in Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland to stop the revenue leaks of the State.
- ISRO and NESAC be directed to maintain real time maps in the three states of Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland so as to monitor the trucks, performance of police, mining (dmr) and transport depts.
- The State Government must develop and host in the public domain an end to end, transaction based, management information system that enables suo- moto disclosure (as mandated under Section 4, Right to Information Act) of leases granted, mining lease documents, environment clearance, forest clearance, Pollution Control Board clearance, Royalties paid, quantum of mineral extracted and royalty paid. The MIS should also include real time tracking of GPS tagged trucks transporting coal from and to pre-determined locations within a framework wherein automated information pertaining to weight of mineral extracted and its conformation at the State operated weighbridge take place. Such initiatives have been operationalized in the State Governments of Rajasthan and Odisha, and can easily be replicated in the State of Meghalaya.
- For all practical purposes the issue of Land Holding by the District Councils needs immediate scrutiny as there is large land grabbing going on. Immediate mapping by GIS of entire Meghalaya should be done by the ADC in collaboration with the State Revenue Department – which is facing resistance from the ADCs and vested interest and politicians who say that the earlier attempts to map their land will interfere into their land ownership
- There is urgent need to MAP entire Meghalaya on a war footing especially being declared as a part of bio-diversity hotspot.
- Issue directions to the State of Meghalaya to implement the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 to extend protection to all citizens (and their family members) who are bringing to the notice of concerned authorities violations of the orders passed by the NGT and the Hon’ble Courts and are intimidated, threatened and harassed.
- The State must ensure that all the information relating to mining operations in the State be made public such that citizens and regulatory authorities can exercise constant vigilance over mining operations and report discrepancies if any. This information should be:
- Prospective Schemes submitted by bidders
- Contracts awarded for exploration and prospecting
- Terms, conditions and norms under which exploration can be carried out A list of all the areas where exploration and prospecting is currently
- Landholdings that the State intends to auction and proof of consent from existing landowners/residents
- Statement of purpose for the proposed auction underlying intended production, projected revenue, impact on the environment, geology and livelihood foreseen
- List of “no go areas” where exploration and mining cannot take place to protect the environment, geology and habitations
- Gazette notifications inviting applications for exploration and auction
- All cabinet decisions pertaining to extraction
- List of bidders who have applied for license and their past performance in extraction; and Ongoing and previous litigations against the bidder
- Information pertaining to distribution of minerals and their location in various geographic locations of the country as recorded by the Geological Survey of India
- List of leaseholders who have been granted the license and their details
- True beneficial ownership of the leaseholder
- Mining Lease Deed and terms of contract agreed between
- Details of appointment of “Mining Development Cum Operator” for every lease, and the conditions under which this appointment was made
- Leaseholder wise details of specific subsidies, tax breaks and tax incentives given by the State for running of operations
- Details of the entity conducting the ‘Environment Impact Assessment’ and terms of reference of the same
- Schedule of Environment Impact Assessment and date of public hearing Environment Impact Assessment Report, Environment Clearance
- Clearances granted by the Pollution Control Board and Consent to Operate
- Clearances granted by the Department of Forests
- Clearances given by various Line Departments
- Summary of the impact of extraction operations on land, water, air, vegetation and livelihoods
- Summary of the activities that the leaseholder is required to take to mitigate the impacts of extraction
- Permissible quantities of air, sound and water pollution as per clearance, and actual quantities of air water and sound pollution at the mining site Mining Plan and Mining Lease Deed
- List of workers employed in the mining site
- Environment Compliance Report
- Monthly and Annual Production Reports filed by the leaseholder with IBM and the Department
- Inspection reports of the concerned mine as conducted by the Department
- Show cause notices issued by the Department to leaseholders
- Demand for recovery, and recoveries made
- Description of the investment made by the leaseholder in the mine. And includes amount spent on machinery amount spent on land purchase + compensation and rehabilitation salary payable to management and workers
- Activities contracted to third parties, their terms of reference and rates
- Environment data as recorded daily in the mining site and the norms prescribed
- Contribution made to National Mineral Exploration Trust by leaseholder to Government
- Contribution made to District Mineral Foundation
- Cost incurred by leaseholder for closure of mine as per Mine Closure Plan
- Cost incurred by the leaseholder in deploying infrastructure and equipment at the worksite
- Penalties paid by leaseholder for violation of norms
- Wage payments made to employees and workers
- Payments made as compensation for acquisition of land and to whom
- Costs incurred by the leaseholder to comply with conditions laid down in the Environment Clearance, Pollution Control Board Clearance and Forest
- Costs incurred by the leaseholder to workers for compensation
- Costs incurred by the leaseholder to maintain safety norms in the mine as laid out in law
- Cost incurred for security/police protection
- Donations made by leaseholder to political parties
- Expenditure incurred by leaseholder for fulfilling CSR obligations
- Audited Mining Receipts
- Progressive Mine Closure Plan