Meghalaya High Court dismisses petition challenging removal of forest check gate
Shillong, July 5: The Meghalaya High Court has recently ruled that in future, the State shall not grant any licence or enter into a lease deed for extraction of minerals without consultation with the Central Empowered Committee (CEC). It also asked the Meghalaya government to draw a comprehensive scheme and create a fund for reclamation in the interest of sustaible development and intergeneratiol equity, and for the purpose of rectifying the damage caused to the forest and environment.
The High Court also directed that a copy of this judgment be issued to the Chief Secretary, the Principal Secretary (Forest), and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of Meghalaya, for compliance.
The High Court was giving its judgment on a writ petition filed by one Tangkham M Sangma who had set up a forest check gate for collection of compensatory fee from the trucks transporting minerals like coal and limestone for reclamation of un-classed forest which falls within the jurisdiction of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council.
Sangma had assailed the action of closure of forest check gate allotted to him on the ground of being arbitrary and illegal.
The petitioner had set up a forest check gate at gulpara and Daidubi in East Garo Hills district in the complex belonging to one Smti Nikse Areng of Daidubi which is situated on the tiol Highway 62. However, the writ petition was dismissed by the High Court.
According to the Meghalaya High Court, the CEC has been constituted by the Supreme Court with all-India jurisdiction and for extraction of mines from the forest land of any kind. It is mandatory to take clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act.
According to Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Uma th Singh, the State is only the guardian and trustee of tural resources and the people of the country are the owner.
"Thus, the State Government cannot grant lease for extracting minerals in the State of Meghalaya without meeting the aforesaid requirements, and the Autonomous District Councils have no power to collect compensatory fee," Chief Justice Singh said.
The Meghalaya High Court also ruled that collection of compensatory fee may encourage illegal mining activities.
The Meghalaya High Court said that the State Government, in order to reclaim the damage caused to the forest and the environment, due to mining activities, shall have to draw a comprehensive scheme and create a fund for reclamation to the extent of not less than 10 percent of the sale proceeds of the minerals.
According to the genesis of the case, the Deputy Commissioner, North Garo Hills district, had convened a meeting on March 5, 2014. The meeting was attended by all the concerned including the writ petitioner and the officers of the GHADC.
In the said meeting, a decision was taken to close down all the uuthorized check gates engaged in illegal collection without any authority of law.
However, the petitioner stated that it was also decided not to interfere with the lawful collections.
In this background on March 11, 2014, the District Administration of North Garo Hills carried out an operation to close down all the uuthorized collection booths, but strangely without any rhyme or reason or even without issuing a show cause, the forest check gate allotted to the petitioner on lease was also simultaneously closed down.
Being aggrieved, the petitioner by way of instant writ petition has assailed the action of closure of forest check gate allotted to him on the ground of being arbitrary and illegal.
The petitioner said that the forest check gate was set up to facilitate the collection of compensatory fee from the trucks loaded with minerals like coal and limestone for reclamation of un-classed forest falling within the jurisdiction of the GHADC.