The decision of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to continue the ban on coal mining in Meghalaya was not unexpected, even for the coal mine owners. The miners’ concern has been disposal of the already extracted coal lying in the open for almost three months. Although the tribunal gave relief to them by withdrawing the ban on transportation of the coal, there are a lot of pre-conditions. The coal traders will have to wait for another two weeks for an official committee to formulate guidelines for transportation of the coal. Even if allowed, they cannot transport the coal in an easy-going manner like in the past. Penalising any miner for violations was a far cry due to strong influence of the mining lobby in the government. Keeping in view the ‘free trade’ in the past, the NGT’s order that removal of coal must be done under ‘strict adherence of the guidelines’ might not be very encouraging for the miners.
There were two important developments a day ahead of the NGT’s crucial hearing in Shillong. First, the miners did a show of strength mobilizing thousands of people on the streets of the state capital. The protesters shouted slogans against the tribunal, a rarely witnessed outcry against a constitutional authority in any part of the country. Political parties and leaders besides the ruling governments are normally blamed for the people’s plight, not any legal institution like the NGT. One reason for the Shillong phenomenon might be lack of awareness on legal authorities, who cannot and should not act in political and popular considerations. The other might be the people’s prolonged frustration with the ‘biased’ stand of legal authority that they could not wait any longer to raise voice against it openly. The second reason does not stand any ground since the NGT order was issued barely three months ago and the so-called drastic impact of the ban on ‘livelihood of lakhs of people’ lacks credible evidence.
The second happening a day ahead of the hearing was chief minister Mukul Sangma’s letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking exemption for the state from the purview of the NGT, ‘as per a provision in the Sixth Schedule’. The chief minister’s letter seems to be just a move to appease the miners, whose money plays a vital role in every election in Meghalaya. The Prime Minister cannot interfere into the judicial matters – Mukul Sangma knows it very well. The best way out is to take corrective measures so as not to harm the environment in future and approach the NGT for withdrawal of the ban.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on August 2, 2014)