SC Illegal Coal Mining
Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case concerning illegal coal mining in the State of Meghalaya, the Vacation Bench comprising Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala, JJ., stayed directions of the Meghalaya High Court directing the dismantling of existing coke plant(s).

However, the Court ordered that the plant(s) shall not operate during the period of stay.

Taking note of widespread activities of illegal coal mining in the State, the Meghalaya High Court had appointed Justice B.P. Katakey for the purpose of ascertaining the extent to which the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the NGT have been complied with and also, to make recommendations regarding measures to be taken to comply with the outstanding directions, including the sale of coal now available, under the aegis of Coal India Limited.

Noticeably, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had earlier constituted a committee headed by Justice Katakey to look into the issue of illegal mining in the State of Meghalaya. Pursuant to the recommendations made by the NGT, the Supreme Court issued detailed directions to the State in State of Meghalaya v. All Dimasa Students Union, (2019) 8 SCC 177 which can be accessed here.

Following the directions of the High Court, Justice Katakey submitted his 41 pages report dated 23-05-2022 which revealed that except for notifying the Meghalaya Minerals (Prevention of Illegal Mining, Transportation and Storage) Rules, 2022 on 24-03-2022, “none of the directions issued by the Supreme Court … and the NGT have been complied with by the authorities concerned…”

By the impugned order, the High Court directed that the authorities concerned should get their acts in order and ensure the complete implementation of the directions within four weeks. In particular, the High Court directed that immediate step should be taken to dispose of the previously mined coal so that freshly mined coal cannot be mixed up with the previous coal, giving room for the excuse that the freshly mined coal was also a part of the previously mined coal.

The grievance of the petitioners was that the High Court had not heard them before issuing the directions to dismantle the existing coke plants and prohibiting them from operating/establishing new coke plant(s). The petitioners submitted that there is no requirement in law to obtain an environmental impact assessment to establish a coke plant and that the direction to dismantle the existing coke plant would cause irreversible losses and injury to them.

Considering the grievances of the petitioners, the Court held that the proper recourse for them would be to seek their impleadment in the suo motu proceedings pending before the High Court.

The Court requested the High Court to entertain the impleadment application and hear the petitioners on merits including, for modification of the previous interim orders dated 24-­05-­2022 and the one passed subsequent thereto on 21-06-2022.

Resultantly, the Court stayed the direction for dismantling the coke plant(s), however, the Court added that the plants concerned should not be operational during the period of stay.

[JMK Coke Industry Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Meghalaya, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 783, decided on 27-06-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Sr. Adv., Mr. Chinmoy Pradip Sharma, Sr. Adv., Mr. S.P. Mahanta, Sr. Adv., Mr. Amarjeet Singh, AOR and Mr. Mewaker Lyngdoh, Advocates, for the Petitioners.


*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together

Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in Meghalaya released the ‘Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021. The Khasis are a matrilineal society and trace inheritance through the mother’s clan. The bill seeks to achieve “equitable distribution” of parental property among siblings- both male and female, in the Khasi community.

 

Key highlights

  • The Bill proposes to let parents decide who they want to will their property to.
  • The Bill would prevent a sibling from getting parental property if they marry a non-Khasi and accept the spouse’s customs and culture.
  • The Bill seeks to achieve equitable property distribution between all children in the family.
  • The purpose of the bill is to modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.
  • The legislation is aimed at economic empowerment based on the principle of equitable distribution of property.

 


*Tanvi Singh, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Meghalaya High Court: The Division Bench of Biswanath Somadder, CJ. and H.S. Thangkhiew, J., decided on the question as to whether vaccination can at all be made mandatory and whether such mandatory action can adversely affect the right of a citizen to earn his/her livelihood.

The Court at first deemed fit to discuss the fundamental rights in question at length and drew an analogy that right to health care, which includes vaccination, is a fundamental right. The Court however believed that vaccination by force or being made mandatory by adopting coercive methods, vitiates the very fundamental purpose of the welfare attached to it.

Any action of the State which is in absolute derogation of this basic principle is squarely affected by Article 19(1)(g). Although, Article 19(6) prescribes “reasonable restrictions” in the “interest of general public”, the present instance is exemplary and clearly distinguishable. It affects an individual‟s right, choice and liberty significantly more than affecting the general public as such or for that matter, the latter‟s interests being at stake because of the autonomous decision of an individual human being of choosing not to be vaccinated.

The Court found that in this case there is a clear lack of legitimacy in prohibiting freedom of carrying on any occupation, trade or business amongst a certain category or class of citizens who are otherwise entitled to do so, making the notification/order illconceived, arbitrary and/or a colourable exercise of power. The Court further opined that the burden lies on the State to disseminate and sensitize the citizens of the entire exercise of vaccination with its pros and cons and facilitate informed decision making particularly in a situation where the beneficiaries are skeptical, susceptible and belonging to vulnerable/marginalised section of the society, some of whom are also gullible members of the indigenous communities who are constantly being fed with deliberate misinformation regarding the efficacy of vaccination by some persons/organisations with oblique motives. The welfare nature of the State isn‟t for coercive negative reinforcement by seizing their right to livelihood, proscribing them to earn from their occupation and/or profession without any justification in the garb of public interest, but lies in walking together with concerted efforts attempting to effectuate a social order as mandated under Article 38 by approaching the people directly by engaging them in one-to-one dialogues and dwelling on the efficiency and the positive aspects of administering of the vaccine without compromising its duty under Article 47 nor abrogating its duty to secure adequate means of livelihood under Article 39(a).

Advocate General submitted that it has been advised by the Principal Secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, Health and Family Welfare Department, that the orders in the districts have to be seen as a “persuasive advisory” and not as coercion with regards to the issue of vaccination. The Principal Secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, Health and Family Welfare Department, while issuing the guidelines on 22-06-2021 has also laid down 7 points that are required to be considered for effecting change in the COVID vaccine compliance in the respective districts of Meghalaya. The Principal Secretary has clearly stated that the existing orders on vaccine compliance may be modified in the light of the new policy directions as spelt out in the guidelines and the requirement of vaccination should be directory and not mandatory. The Court agreed that it was the right step in this direction.

The Court further issued certain directions in the interest of general public:

  • All shops/establishments/local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses should display prominently at a conspicuous place, a sign, “VACCINATED”, in the event all employees and staff of the concerned shop/establishment are vaccinated. Similarly, in the case of local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses where the concerned driver or conductor or helper(s) are vaccinated.
  • All shops/establishments/local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses should display prominently at a conspicuous place, a sign, “NOT VACCINATED”, in the event all the employees and staff of the concerned shop/establishment are not vaccinated. Similarly, in the case of local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses where the concerned driver or conductor or helper(s) are not vaccinated.

[Registrar General, v. State of Meghalaya, 2021 SCC OnLine Megh 130, decided on 23-06-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Meghalaya High Court: H. S. Thangkhiew J., dismissed the writ petition being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner herein is the eldest son of the deceased employee who expired when the petitioner was still a minor aged 11(eleven) years old. The petitioner on attaining majority applied for appointment on compassionate ground in the year 2009, and it was only in 2013 that the petitioner was informed vide letter dated 21.03.2013 by the respondent 2 that he was placed at Sl. No. 19 in the list for consideration for appointment on compassionate ground. It was further informed by letter dated 10.11.2014 that after review by the Compassionate Appointment Committee, the petitioner was placed at Sl. No. 37, and thereafter down the year so much so that the petitioner is now placed at 10.1 and it is the norm that a person whose indigent index is less than 10 (points) is no longer considered eligible for appointment. Hence the petitioner herein has preferred this application before this Court on the grievance that his application for appointment on compassionate ground has not been duly considered and that he has been deprived of the same due to the arbitrary acts of the respondents.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the respondents have acted arbitrarily and delayed his case which has resulted in his low indigent index ranking and the respondents have not complied with the prescribed Scheme contained in the Office Memorandum dated 09-10-1998 issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pension (Department Personnel & Training), for consideration of appointment which has resulted in the deprivation of the petitioner of gainful employment.

Counsel for the respondents submitted that the writ petition is hopelessly barred by delay and laches, inasmuch as, the deceased employee had expired in 2003, the application for compassionate appointment was only made in 2009, i.e. 6(six) years after the death of the employee, and that the petitioner has come to Court only on July, 2017. It was further submitted that this delay defeats the very purpose of compassionate appointment which had been formulated to provide immediate succor to the family of the bereaved to tide over the crisis caused due to the death of an employee.

The Court relied on judgment Umesh Kumar Nagpal v. State of Haryana, (1994) 4 SCC 138, wherein it was held:

“2…. The whole object of granting compassionate employment is thus to enable the family to tide over the sudden crisis. The object is not to give a member of such family a post much less a post for post held by the deceased. What is further, mere death of an employee in harness does not entitle his family to such source of livelihood. The Government or the public authority concerned has to examine the financial condition of the family of the deceased, and it is only if it is satisfied, that but for the provision of employment, the family will not be able to meet the crisis that a job is to be offered to the eligible member of the family. The posts in Classes III and IV are the lowest posts in non-manual and manual categories and hence they alone can be offered on compassionate grounds, the object being to relieve the family, of the financial destitution and to help it get over the emergency”

 “6.For these very reasons, the compassionate employment cannot be granted after a lapse of a reasonable period which must be specified in the rules. The consideration for such employment is not a vested right which can be exercised at any time in future. The object being to enable the family to get over the financial crisis which it faces at the time of the death of the sole breadwinner, the compassionate employment cannot be claimed and offered whatever the lapse of time and after the crisis is over.”

The Court thus observed that the object of compassionate appointment which is an exception to Article 16 (1) of Constitution of India and as has been reiterated by a catena of judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, is to address the immediacy of the need and it is not meant to entertain stale claims. A scheme for the grant of compassionate appointment does not constitute a reservation of a post in favour of a member of the family of the deceased employee, and there is no general right which can accrue to the effect that a member of the family who was a minor at the time of death would be entitled to claim compassionate appointment upon attaining majority.

The Court thus held “no case has been made out by the petitioner for issuance of any direction or for any interference by this Court. Further, no discernable grounds have been made out to show that there was any failure on the part of the respondent No. 1 & 2 in complying with the Scheme for compassionate appointment, nor any materials placed on record to substantiate the allegations that there was any illegality or arbitrariness on the part of the respondents.”

In view of the above, writ petition was dismissed.[Dhaneswar Medhi v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Megh 15, decided on 03-02-2021]


Arunima bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Cabinet DecisionsLegislation Updates

The Union Cabinet has given its approval to relax the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar seeding of data beneficiaries of the States of Assam and Meghalaya and UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh for release of benefits to them under PM-Kisan Scheme upto 31st March, 2021.

The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) Scheme was launched by the Prime Minister on 24 February, 2019. The Scheme aims to provide income support to all landholder farmer families across the country with cultivable land, subject to certain exclusions. Under the Scheme, an amount of Rs. 6000/- per year is released in three 4-monthly instalments of Rs. 2000/- each directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

The Scheme is effective from 1st December, 2018. From 1st December, 2019, release of benefits is done only through Aadhaar seeded data of beneficiaries uploaded by the State / UT Governments on the PM-KISAN portal, except in case of the States of Assam and Meghalaya and the UTs of J&K and Ladakh, which have been given exemption from this requirement till 31st March, 2020, as Aadhaar penetration there has been miniscule.

It has been assessed that it would take much more time for the States of Assam and Meghalaya and the UTs of J&K and Ladakh to complete the work of Aadhaar seeding of data of beneficiaries and the beneficiaries of these States / UTs may not be able to avail the benefits of the Scheme w.e.f. 1st April, 2020 onwards, if the relaxation from mandatory requirement of Aadhaar seeding of data is not extended.

The total number of beneficiary farmers in these States and UTs who have been paid at least one installment as on 8.4.2020 are 27,09,586 beneficiaries in Assam, 98,915 beneficiaries in Meghalaya and 10,01,668 beneficiaries in J&K, including Ladakh.


Cabinet

[Press Release dt. 22-04-2020]

[Source: PIB]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

High Court of Meghalaya: The Court recently was dealing with the problems faced by Niam Khasi (Indigenous) Tribe in the State especially when the people of the tribe are not allowed to cremate the dead bodies in cremation ground in the name of environmental cause and a disturbance to ka imlang sahlang (social life) amongst other reasons. The petitioners’ counsel contended that in the guise of such excuses, the rights of the followers of the Niam Khasi faith has been abused, violated, trampled upon and ignored by a large section of society including the respondent authorities that is, headmistresses of two schools in Mylliem (where ordinary residents are Christian).

The Court was apprised with the two latest incidents of protests where the people of tribe were not allowed to cremate the dead bodies. In a judgment on the same issue in Seng Khasi Mylliem v. Shri Midnightborn Kharlukhi2017 SCC OnLine Megh 371 the Court had directed the Deputy Commissioner to fence the area allotted to and take other necessary steps to develop and to make it functional in the next months. The Court therefore, decided not to repeat whatever it had already held and considered the question before it in the instant petition.

The counsel for petitioner had alleged that the students of Hemon Zenith Secondary School, Mylliem and Sunny Hill Adventist School, Mylliem also took part and raised slogans against the cremation of a dead person belonging to the indigenous faith. In spite of the matter  being reported to different authorities, no action was taken and therefore, requested the Court to take proper action.

The Court observed that there is no doubt that some of the respondents definitely violated the provisions of the Constitution of India as well as other laws and totally shattered humanity. However, headmistresses of both the schools agreed that all the protests by students happened when the situation went out of their control. The Bench of S. Rynjah, J. posed a question as to what the future of the country will be if the children are not being taught properly about the Constitution, religious tolerance and mutual respect. The Court observed that the parents send their children to school so that they become responsible citizens of the country, not hooligans.

Counsel also told the Court that the students of indigenous faith in these schools were being made to sit separately to which the Court responded shockingly and called it a shameful act of school. The Judge stated that society should wake up and look into these types of issues and help India become ‘One Country, One Nation and One Family’. The Court directed the Superintendent of Police to look into the pending FIR and also directed DPI, School Education to send surprise periodical inspection team to see that the school should function without any favour or discrimination where students can study without fear. It further directed that if the same is repeated in the school, the inspection team is free to cancel the permission licence of both the schools. The writ petition was finally allowed and disposed as instructions stated above. [Ka Babymola Buhphang v. State of Meghalaya,  2017 SCC OnLine Megh 372, decided on 14.12.2017]