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HC raps Govt over operation of illegal coke plants in West Khasi Hills; 60 units operating illegally despite permission to only four

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Shillong, Dec 16: The Meghalaya High Court on Friday pulled the state government over the setting up of illegal coke plants in West Khasi Hills District even as it directed the Chief Secretary to shut them down and file a compliance report by December 19.

Hearing a PIL on the matter, the Division Bench said it is distressing that the State administration appears to be complicit in the illegal functioning of coke plants in the State.

It said that the state government has done precious little despite the Court’s effort over the last several months to implement the orders passed by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to prohibit the illegal mining of coal and the illegal setting up of coke plants.

“Indeed, it now appears that the State government may have helped circumvent orders and actively connive with the operators of the illegal coke plants,” the bench observed.

Stating that a coke plant is not really a cottage industry that it can be surreptitiously operated from a basement or attic, it said that it takes effort not to notice a fully operational coke plant.

According to the writ petitioner Monu Kumar, there are more than 60 coke making units in the West Khasi Hills District against the admitted position that only four units have been granted consent to operate. These are the only four that had previously obtained consent to establish the units.

The letter dated December 15, placed on behalf of the State revealed that a spot inspection was conducted by the Committee on Environment of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly on August 18, 2020 on all the coke making units in and around Shallang, in West Khasi Hills District.

This limited inspection revealed 16 coke making units operating without any permission from the appropriate authorities.

According to a document issued by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and relied upon in the writ petition, which is corroborated by the letter of December 15, only four units – Carbochem India, Shemphang Riangshiang, Rilangam Coke Industries and MD Coke Industries – have consent to operate coke plants in the West Khasi Hills District.

The bench directed that all other coke plants, whatever may be the size and whoever may be directly or indirectly controlling the same, must be shut down as of today.

“The Chief Secretary will file a compliance report with the Registrar-General by December 19, 2022, confirming such position,” it said.

The bench also directed the Deputy Commissioner, West Khasi Hills along with the Superintendent of Police to show cause why appropriate action should be taken against such persons for failing to take steps against all coke making units operating in their jurisdiction without due authority.

It further directed that all Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police in other districts should ensure that there is no coke making unit operating within their jurisdiction otherwise than upon obtaining due consent to operate.

All Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police of the districts are also directed to confirm such position by filing individual reports addressed to the Chief Secretary within a week from date.

The bench also directed seizing of all raw material and finished product of those units which have been found to have operated illegally and immediate appropriate action initiated against the persons in control of the units in accordance with law.

In the suo motu proceedings initiated by this Court pertaining to the continued illegal mining of coal in the State despite the orders of the Supreme Court and the NGT, the latest order of December 8, 2022 observed, inter alia, that the State Pollution Control Board should maintain a strict vigil to ensure that environmental norms were not violated and, if violated, appropriate action be taken.

The bench said the functioning of any coke oven plant without due permission would amount to flagrant violation of the environmental norms and the State Pollution Control Board should get cracking against such units in the State which are found to have functioned without due authority of law.

“The State is put on notice that if the State is unable to implement this order or the subsisting orders of Courts and Tribunals which are binding on it, this Court will have to look at resources beyond the State to enforce such orders,” it said while adding “It is a matter of crying shame that the position continues, both pertaining to illegal coal mining and the functioning of unauthorised coke oven plants. It may not be a coincidence that the elections are round the corner.”

The next hearing on the matter will be held on February 1.

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