EXCLUSIVE | Unraveling the mystery of Black Diamonds in Meghalaya and Assam



SILCHAR | Jan 14, 2020:

Despite various efforts by the government to curb alleged illegal transport of coal from Meghalaya to Assam's Barak Valley and free the valley from the "much-talked" corruption, the scenario remains unchanged with coal-laden trucks allegedly entering the valley daily from the neighbouring state.

Complaints of illegal coal transport from Meghalaya to Barak Valley have poured in from various circles and news stories published from time to time over the past many years. The matter, however, apparently lost attention every time.

Speaking to The Northeast Today, Karimganj North Congress legislator Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha said the government speaks of zero tolerance against corruption, but the reality has exactly been the opposite. "A big syndicate controlling the illegal coal transport from Meghalaya to Barak Valley came into existence after the BJP gained Dispur. The business is thriving with support from the government," he alleged.

Kamalakhya claimed a number of MLAs of the BJP are involved in the unlawful business and that the MLAs get support directly from Dispur. The matter was raised many times in the Assembly, but the government avoided it "shamelessly" every time, he alleged. He added that many leaders of the ruling BJP will be "unmasked" if a high-level probe is conducted into the case and dared the government to hand over the alleged scam's investigation to the CBI.

The founder-president of the All Cachar Karimganj Hailakandi Students' Association and former BJP member Pradip Dutta Roy said illegal coal transport from Meghalaya to Barak Valley is going on unabated and that the clandestine business can be stopped only through a CBI investigation.

Roy, who at a news conference here in 2018 had raised allegations about the illegal coal transport in the valley and said the government had failed to curb the crime, reiterated that the authorities have been utterly unsuccessful in preventing the illegal activities. He claimed that a section of top leaders of the BJP, both from Dispur and Barak Valley, are involved in the syndicate running the coal scam.

The president of an NGO Youths Against Social Evils Sanjeev Roy said the matter of illegal coal transport in the valley was brought to the notice of the authorities concerned many times in the past, but necessary steps were not taken.

Roy said they had submitted a memorandum to Cachar deputy commissioner Barnali Sharma recently and sought her intervention into the matter. He threatened of large-scale protests if the measures to prevent the illegal business are not initiated soon.

Reacting to this, the deputy commissioner said the matter is serious and that she has received some complaints about the illegal activities. She assured that necessary measures would be taken in this regard, Roy said.

A resident of Katigorah area, who wished anonymity, alleged that around 100-150 coal-laden trucks (without valid challans) enter the valley via Digarkhal from Meghalaya daily and around Rs. 60,000 is taken from each truck. Three syndicates, which are being run by two coal mafia of Karimganj district and one of Cachar district's Kalain, are controlling the business. A section of police officials and administrations of the three districts of the valley is involved in this and turns a blind eye to the unlawful activities in exchange of money, he alleged.

Digarkhal falls under Katigorah Assembly constituency in Cachar district, around 46km from here.

Katigorah BJP MLA Amar Chand Jain told The Northeast Today that trucks, which come from Meghalaya to Barak Valley during daytime, are passed after checking valid documents. He, however, has no idea about the trucks which come to the valley from the neighbouring state at night, he said.

The in-charge of Gumrah police investigation centre Manoj Rajbongshi dismissed the allegation of illegal transport of coal to the valley from Meghalaya. "Nothing of that kind is happening. These are just rumours," he said. The investigation centre is the first police checkpoint for vehicles coming from Meghalaya to Barak Valley.

Sources said a four-member CID team had visited the valley for an investigation in August, 2019 based on a complaint by few people. The team, which interrogated the complainants and inspected the areas including Digarkhal and Gumrah (through which coal-laden trucks allegedly enter the valley), was about to submit a report to the government, sources said.

Another source said an enforcement team, constituted by the previous Cachar deputy commissioner Laya Madduri, had on December 29, 2019 arrested a man on the suspicion of his involvement with the illegal coal transport. The unlawful business, however, continued despite the operation and 62 coal-laden trucks entered the valley from Meghalaya on the night of December 30, 2019. Rs. 60,000 was collected from each truck; altogether, over Rs. 37 lakh was collected, the source claimed.

In July, 2017 police arrested a suspected coal mafia Abdul Ahad Choudhury, a resident of Sutarkandi in Karimganj district. A diary, which had the names of some top administrative officials and political leaders (who used to get paid by Ahad), was recovered by the police from Ahad's residence. The topic of Ahad's arrest and the diary's recovery had garnered immense attention and indicated to unravel the "mystery of black diamonds", however it lost attention with time. The state government had in 2018 announced to hand over the scam's inquiry to the CBI. The probe, however, has not been initiated till date.

According to a recent news report in a leading English daily of Meghalaya, the Meghalaya Lokayukta had on January 9 ordered a CBI inquiry into the alleged racket involved in the transportation of coal, boulders and betel-nuts in the state. The Lokayukta's chairperson PK Musahary issued the order based on the complaint by a border resident Abhijit Basumatary against the superintendent of police, Khliehriat and few others.

As per the order, the petition says about the racket in the export and import of goods, particularly coal, betel-nuts and boulders, which are being transported by violating central and state laws, mostly from East Jaintia Hills via different points and check-gates along the Indo-Bangladesh border covering Barak Valley in south Assam and Khliehriat in Meghalaya, the news report said.