The Supreme Court order extending the coal transport deadline by further eight months is a great relief for the coal miners and traders. It will also revive a huge source of revenue for the state which has very few avenues to fill its exchequer. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), after granting several extensions for transport of the remaining extracted coal, has refused to give any further extension and asked the government to take possession of the coal and auction it. It has been over two years since the NGT banned coal mining and its transportation in its order on April 17, 2014. Given the several extensions granted to the mine owners and traders to transport the remaining extracted coal, NGT in its last order refused to allow it anymore. The NGT’s tough stand was also boosted by the fact that coal mining continued despite the ban in some interior areas and hundreds of trucks carrying coal were seized during the restricted period.
The repeated pleas by mining bodies to grant extension after extension to ferry the remaining coal gives rise to the question if the time given so far to sell and transport the coal out of the state was not enough. It is not known as to how the petitioners have satisfied the NGT several times and the Supreme Court this time in this aspect of the issue. According to government statistics, around 30 lakh MT already extracted coal is yet to be transported out of the state. The coal lying in the open is a concern for the NGT as it had banned the mining considering the opening dumping one of the reasons for severe pollution in the rivers, some of which are already ‘dead’. It is certain that the mine owners/ traders had enough time to transport the extracted coal, but for certain factors hindering the process.
The prime reason for the very slow rate of transport of the coal in the past two-and-a-half years is the low price of coal. While most small miners sold out their coal due to lack of financial back-up the coal barons are still waiting for the ban to be lifted so that the prices go up. On the other hand, buyers from outside are taking advantage of the situation and have not offered good prices leading to the pile-up. Illegal mining, although may not be on a large scale, also contributed to the static figure of yet-to-be-transported extracted coal. If such situation is allowed to continue, which will not go unnoticed from the Supreme Court, various associations and the state government will just end up appealing for extension of the transportation deadline, again and again. Withdrawal of the ban would remain a distant dream.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 23, 2016)