Nagaland: No stop to coal trade despite govt ban

Nagaland: No stop to coal trade despite govt ban

Earth moving machineries seen scoop digging at an open cast coal mining site in Mokokchung district recently. Coal trading in Nagaland continues even in the face of a standing government order forbidding coal mining. (Morung file photo)

Morung Express News
Dimapur | February 3

Coal trading in Nagaland continues even in the face of a standing government order forbidding coal mining. According to people involved in the coal trade, coal-laden trucks cross the state borders daily, making a mockery of the government directive.

“There has been no downturn in business despite the ban and it is continuing as it was before. In fact, we are getting a good price,” said one miner active in the Changki and Tsurang valley area in Mangkolemba sub-division, Mokokchung.

On average, he approximated that some 40-60 trucks cross the inter-state check-post per day at Tsutapela, Mokokchung.

The Nagaland state government has recently issued an order provisionally banning coal mining across the state. The government order, which took effect on January 22, enforced a blanket ban on “illegal coal mining” and temporarily banning/halting all existing government authorised mining activity.

The order however appears to have taken effect only on paper without corresponding enforcement on the ground.

Similar is the situation in the coal belts of Longleng and Mon bordering Assam. According to a buyer from the area, many mines – licensed as well as unlicensed – are active and sale continues without much government intervention.

Asked what could be sustaining the impunity, the trader said that it is well into the mining season and crores at stake. He added that the people, who have invested months ahead in preparation for the mining season, would not give up easily.

Further queried how coal cross the check-posts in the face of the latest directive, he responded that there has not been much change in the mode of transaction. “We still pay the revenue due (to the state) and we are in turn issued ‘challan’ (payment receipt) as it used to before the ban.”

State royalty, as stipulated by the government in the Coal Mining Policy (First Amendment) 2014, stands at Rs. 290 per tonne.

As for the department in concern, it expressed apprehension on the effectiveness of the ban directive.

Director of Geology & Mining Wanthang Rengma commented, “It will be practically difficult to implement the ban order unless security is provided to the department’s field personnel.”

Citing Nagaland’s land ownership system, he said that it will be virtually impossible to ask let alone force people to stop. “They (miners) maintain that whether there is a ban or not, they will continue to dig and sell.”

He lamented that the order came all of a sudden without much consultation with the department.

Other officials of the department echoed the Director’s view, while admitting the latest mining ban has not had any impact.

One of the officials pointed to the order carrying no clear terms of reference. “It has banned but what of the coal already stocked in depots or in transit at the time when the (provisional) ban came into effect?”

The environment angle is obvious in the order, however, he added, “I think the order is more a pre-emptive reaction to the Rs. 100cr fine imposed by the National Green Tribunal on Meghalaya than actual concern for the environment.”

Revenue from coal made up around Rs. 1 crore of the total receipts during 2017-18, as per the department’s annual Administrative Report 2017-18. It was Rs. 1.85crore in 2016-17.

Branding the illegal legal

At present, per tonne price of coal in Nagaland ranges between Rs. 4500-5500 irrespective of the legal status. Either from an illegal or a licensed mine, the rate is fairly uniform and only subject to grade or quality.

Technically, any form of coal mining and sale is illegal at present. But how did it work before the provisional ban took effect?

As per one coal miner, coal from an illegal or unlicensed mine gets branded as sourced from licensed mines in the area. “As a miner, my job is simple- I dig and sell. It is the buyer’s problem how it gets out,” the miner said.

There appears to be an unwritten rule or rather a tacit understanding between licensees and suppliers/buyers for it to work.

It starts at the common depots or collection points where all the “necessary” transactions are made.

Other factors come into play as well. In addition to the statutory revenue payment, unsanctioned payments go to the police and other departments at the checkposts and separate “tax” to the NPGs (Naga Political Group).

Total expenses incurred as payments to various agencies, organisations and NPGs averages a minimum of Rs. 15,000 per truck, said a trader from Assam.

Before the ban, there was said to be 12 Coal Mining Leases or licenses in operation in the state excluding Small Pocket Deposit Licenses.