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Hub of Illegal Coal Trade In Tinsukia district’s Margherita

Hub of Illegal Coal Trade In Tinsukia district’s Margherita

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 Feb 2019 2:40 AM GMT

TINSUKIA: The coke coal bhattas (kilns or oven plants) within the jurisdictions of Borgolai Panchayat, Ledo Colliery Gaon Panchayat and Samukjan Panchayat in Tinsukia district’s Margherita subdivision are the major hubs for illegal coal trade.

Only a few of these bhattas lift raw materials from North Eastern Coalfields through legalized means. The rest procure and consume lakhs of tonnes of pilfered coal, leading to crores of rupee revenue loss to the Government. The bhattas also allegedly violate Pollution Control Board (PCB) and GST norms.

At present there are 92 bhattas, and most of which have been flouting prescribed pollution control norms. A highly placed source in Coal India Ltd (CIL) said that all the bhattas are illegal. Information provided to Sanju Chetri, an RTI activist of Borgolai by agencies concerned has revealed that in 2017 there were 52 coke coal bhattas in the area. While 25 of them were registered, the rest 27 were not registered with the District Industries and Commerce Centre, Tinsukia. During past two years the number of such bhattas increased by 40 others. If all the bhattas have been in operation and if the RTI information is taken as authentic, these registered bhattas had 665 ovens in 52 coal bhattas consuming 350.08 metric tonnes of coal per day of which 43 bhattas did not lift any coal from Coal India during 2016-17. Thus these bhattas must have been sustaining on pilfered coal.

The mode of transportation of illicit coal from the source is area-specific, adopting both manual and mechanized systems. Stealing of coal, including coal thrash from designated stockyard of the NEC, is rampant. Hundreds of migrant labourers, including women and children, from across Northeast including Dimapur, Jonai, Lakhimpur carry gunny bags with sharp tools ‘trespass’ through rail yard of the NEC in Tirap Colliery in broad daylight. Mafia agents keep a close watch either from hilltops or coal reserves within the operational area of the NEC. These labourers, after stealing extracted coal or extracted by themselves, cross over the unfenced NEC area to the opposite side of NH 38 before depositing at coal bhattas in three shifts. They return to their roadside thatch huts and shanties before nightfall. While the coal bhattas have engaged several persons to keep eye on the movement of labourers and security personnel, a labourer, male or female, carries a load 75-100 kg coal on his/her back. Most of these labourers are addicted to drugs, according to the police.

The scenario is quite different in Namdang Hills, a leasehold area of the NEC not operational. The NEC is seeking forest and environment clearance. While excavators and dredgers are being used for faster extraction of coal in the foothills, in the hills rat-hole practice is adopted. The thieves have reportedly set up temporary camps atop the hill. The extracted coal is carried down to the foothill and deposited there before being transported by more than 100 Max Pickup vans daily through the hilly terrains carved out by coal mafia to the nearest illegal depots on the side of NH 38. This illegal coal is then loaded onto 16 to 20-wheeler trucks parked on either side of NH 38. The illegal coal is also reportedly piled at the backyard of several illegal truck parking lots that have sprung up in recent times after earth cutting in hill slops in the Borgolai area. The NRL petrol depot of late has turn out to be a parking lot for truckers.

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