NEW DELHI: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) finally pronounced its orders on Wednesday on transportation of the extracted coal as well as reopening of coal mining in the state of Meghalaya after three days of hearing and deliberation on the matter.

In a partial relief to the coal mine owners, the NGT allowed transportation of extracted coal till May 31 and at the same fixed the last date of payment of royalty as April 16.

Informing this in Shillong on Wednesday, Meghalaya Commercial Truck Owners’ and Operators Association President Augustine Shangpru said that the NGT also asked the state government to submit its mining plan within 6 weeks time after which future course of action with regard to coal mining in Meghalaya would be decided.

“The NGT has also directed the state government in categorical terms to make weighbridges in the state operational within a period of four weeks.

The NGT during Wednesday’s hearing took into consideration report of five independent environment commissioners, appointed by the Tribunal, regarding South West Khasi Hills.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Tribunal had appointed five independent environment commissioners to conduct independent inspections at the weigh bridges and mines and see if the orders passed by the tribunal are being followed in letter and spirit. Besides Bhattachajee, other local commissioners are advocate JB Kharbhhih, retired IPS officer K Rymbui and Vikash Pradhan and Rosanna Lyngdoh (both environmentalists). The tribunal also ordered creation of the Meghalaya Environment Protection Fund as suggested by the local commissioners.

Earlier, the advocate for coal owners, Saurabh Sharma had said “The NGT bench has never stated that the ban was a permanent one. They wanted the coal extraction to be regularized through a mining plan. The delay in the submission of the mining plan is the reason for the ban on coal extraction for now. The Bench has also given a deadline of April 16th to the state to submit a mining plan for review”.

Sharma further stated that the state government has been asked to not blame the NGT for its failure to reopen mining in the state.

However, Sharma informed that the order for transportation of extracted coal may not be given as the NGT wanted the state to complete the mining plan. “There is a feeling that if transportation is extended further, the state may again delay the creation and submission of a mining plan. So there may be disappointment for the transportation of coal that has already been extracted as the NGT tries to pressure the state government in submitting the mining plan”, he said.

As per reports, an amount of more than Rs 30 crores has been paid already, in advance, by coal miners of the state in hope of orders for the transportation of coal. There is however no clarity on whether the money would be returned to the coal miners if the order for transportation is not passed on Wednesday.

The NGT , on April 17 last year, had issued orders to the Meghalaya state government to immediately stop rat-hole and other illegal coal mining, as also transportation of coal extracted through such methods. The ban was issued following a complaint by the All Dimasa Students’ Union of the adjoining Dima Hasao district of Assam, which contended that rat-hole mining in Meghalaya had polluted the Kopili river and turned its water poisonous.

On January 29 this year, it directed the Meghalaya government to submit a complete report adopted for the purpose of promoting scientific and permissible mining of coal which was banned last year.