SHILLONG, Dec 2 - In a setback for environmentalists and victims in coal mining-affected areas, Justice BP Katakey (retd) on Monday decided to step down as chairman of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) committee.
Justice Katakey was appointed chairman of the NGT committee by a Supreme Court order on August 31, 2018. It was mandated to “take stock of all actions taken” to restore the environment and rehabilitate victims in coal mining-affected areas in Meghalaya. It was also asked to “prepare time-bound action plan and ensure its implementation” on the issue of restoration and rehabilitation.
“In today’s proceeding, I expressed my mind to disassociate myself from this committee due to my personal reasons, inconvenience. I will write to the Supreme Court to relieve me,” Katakey said after a meeting here on Monday.
Although Justice Katakey cited personal reasons for stepping down, sources said he was upset with the state government over non-cooperation with the committee.
In recent meetings, the committee had sought details on the 32 lakh metric tonnes of extracted coal, which is to be auctioned by Coal India Limited (CIL).
This information – related to details on different locations of this coal, its legitimate owners and other finer points, would be shared with CIL. This information has also been provided to the Supreme Court by the state government through an affidavit, but was not provided to the committee when sought.
The state government argued that the committee has no jurisdiction to seek the information. When asked if the information could have been shared in public interest, Justice Katakey said it was “declined for reasons best known to them (state government)”.
Justice Katakey said that in the past, the government was cooperating with the committee, but in the last few meetings, it was “reluctant” to share information.
Since taking over as chairman, Justice Katakey had dug up several coal mining issues and reported those to the Supreme Court, including evidence of illegal mining activity despite a Supreme Court ban. His use of technology, seeking help of satellite imagery of the North Eastern Space Application Centre to provide evidence on freshly mined coal, was lauded. He also recommended to the state government to increase the compensation package for families of coal mining victims who lost their lives in dangerous and unregulated mines over the years.