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SHILLONG | July 03, 2019:

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma Wednesday hailed the Supreme Court’s order allowing mining operations in privately and community owned land in the state, subject to the permissions from the concerned authorities.

Sangma said his government is yet to receive the official judgement but “from the basic gist we have been made to understand that the ban that was put in place by the National Green Tribunal has been set aside by the Supreme Court and that the ban has been lifted,” said the Chief Minister in a recorded audio message from Germany.

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He welcomed the judgment by saying that the most important part of the judgment is the fact that the tribal rights have been recognised.

“The fact that SC has come out with a judgment which states that the land and the resources are of the owners is ‘landmark and historic’, as it gives back the entire ownership to the people. This is the biggest victory, biggest aspect of the judgment as a whole,” the Chief Minister added.

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He further said that Meghalaya has to realise the impact of the ban on coal mining and its effect on the economy and stated that from here on, they should move on by ensuring mining is being done in a proper, scientific and systematic way by adhering to rules and by ensuring utmost concern to the environmental aspect.

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Hitting out at the Opposition Congress, Conrad said “The legal team has worked tirelessly and have ensured that all necessary paper works were put in placed. There was no movement of any sort by the previous Government, we challenged the order of the NGT and the hardwork put in by the legal team has yielded result.”

Welcoming the decision of the SC, the Chief Minister credited the judgment as victory of the people, especially the tribal community.

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He also advised people to undertaken mining by striking a balance between economy and the ecology.

The Supreme Court Wednesday directed the Meghalaya government to deposit the Rs 100 crore fine imposed on it by the NGT for failing to curb illegal coal mining with the Central Pollution Control Board.

The NGT had fined the Meghalaya government on January 4. During the hearing, the state government had admitted that a large number of mines were operating illegally in the northeastern state.

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The apex court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph directed the state administration to hand over the illegally extracted coal to Coal India Limited (CIL), which will auction it and deposit the funds with the state government.

He informed that SC has accepted the contention of the State Govt. that a penalty of 100 Crores as imposed by the NGT would cause hardship to the small State of Meghalaya and has therefore directed that the amount of Rs. 100 Crores be paid from the MEPRF Fund, which was created for collecting fines/penalties from persons who were engaged in illegal mining.

Therefore, the burden of the fine has not been imposed on the State Govt. but rather on the illegal miners and transporters of illegally mined coal, who the State Govt. has continuously penalized for violations.

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Meanwhile, terming the judgment of the Supreme Court as “historic”, Deputy Chief Minister, Prestone Tynsong said that the apex court has confirmed that the land, mines and its suffices with regards to Meghalaya will remain with the tribal people.

“It is a historical movement since the apex court has set aside the ruling of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to ban coal mining in the State. The judgment has come after the NPP led MDA Government has been fighting and pursuing this issue for the past one year. We are happy that the apex court has passed the judgment in view of the petition filed by the State Government,” Tynsong told reporter here today.

Recalling that the issue had remained unresolved since the NGT imposed the ban in 2014, he said that the previous Congress led MUA Government did nothing to resolve the issue which has affected the people of the State.

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“Everybody were so restless since the issue of ban on coal mining continues to linger for more than five years. The previous Government under the leadership of Dr Mukul Sangma had submitted papers to the Ministry of Coal and other concerned Ministries where he proposed that the mining of coal should be handed over to the MMDC…

“It is true that the MMDC is a State Government public undertaking. But if you talk about transferring of mining to MMDC, it tantamount to transfer of ownership to the MMDC,” Deputy Chief Minister said.

Pointing out that the present Government as soon as assuming office took up the issue, he said that they had to Delhi on numerous occasions and met various concerned Central Ministries to resolve the ban on coal mining.

Meanwhile, he said that the MMDR Act will still be applicable as far as mining of coal in the State is concerned adding that this means that certain statutory laws like issue of environment and issue of safety of people has to be complied.

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“Mining of coal will be allowed provided mining plan is prepared and put up before the State Government. The State Government would then submit the mining plan to the Centre. The mining would be taken place following the approval of the mining plan by the Centre,” Tynsong said.

When asked about the preparation of the mining plan, he said that the State Government is well ahead with the preparation of the mining plan since it had presumed to get a favourable judgement from the apex court.

“We already engaged two agencies -Central for Mines Planning and Design Institute Limited and Minerals Exploration Corporation Limited- to prepare the mining plan,” Tynsong stated.

When asked that the Opposition Congress had stated that the MDA Government cannot claim credit to this ruling of the apex court, he said that the previous Congress led MUA Government had sat on this issue.

“I was part of the Cabinet under the leadership of Dr Mukul Sangma. When the NGT ban came, he (Dr Mukul) never shared with his Cabinet colleagues on the steps that the Government would take to resolve this problem. We were not aware about his plan,” Deputy Chief Ministers said.

He also claimed that he had once suggested Dr Mukul that the ban by the tribunal should be contested in the apex court. “I told him why should we listen only to the tribunal. There was no response. But the present Government challenged the ruling during May-June last year,” Deputy Chief Minister said.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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