Meghalaya govt to tighten noose on illegal coke factories
(By Daia Kharsati)
Clarifying the government’s stand on the rise in the number of “illegal” coke factories in East Jaintia Hills, home minister Lahkmen Rymbui on Thursday said that he has directed the Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills to oversee the operation of coke factories and take action against the illegal ones.
“After seeing the rise of coke factories in East Jaintia Hills, I have ordered the SP of East Jaintia Hills to close all illegal coke factories operating in the district. As for the legal ones, the SP must check the source of coal used in these factories.”
The issue came to light last week after the Environment Coordination Committee in East Jaintia Hills district organised a protest rally voicing concerns over the rise in the number of "illegal" coke factories in the state, especially in the district.
When asked why so many coke factories are sprouting in the district, Minister-in-charge of Commerce & Industries, Sniawbhalang Dhar admitted that it is him who has given the permission but reiterated that these factories are allowed to operate only with raw materials (coal) procured from “legal” sources.
“I have given the permission but it accompanies a clause that for every coke factory, coal should be obtained from legal sources. That is a very clear-cut condition. As we know that coal mining is banned in Meghalaya, raw materials (coal) can be obtained from Kolkata or West Bengal,” he said, adding that the onus of procurement of raw materials for the factories lies with the management of the factory owners and they should shoulder that responsibility by procuring the raw materials from legal sources outside the state.
Earlier this year, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had told the assembly that Meghalaya has identified 21 coke factories, of which only four are legal. And out of the 17 illegal factories, 10 had received single-window clearances and are awaiting Consent to Establish (CTE) and Consent to Operate (CTO) under the Air & Water Act.
Dhar further added that he is duty-bound to approve the Single Window Agency (SWA) for businesses/factories and there should not be any delay in processing the same.
However, he maintained that there are several other processes too that are needed to be followed by the business houses to get the clearance such as approaching the Forest & Environment Department and the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB).
He further asserted that meetings with the MSPCB are held often to keep track of illegal activities.
"Nobody can start an industry without having proper documents. Without proper documents, no one is allowed to set up industries. There is a step-by-step procedure. If there is any illegal coke factory, an FIR should be filed,” he averred.
In 2018, the Meghalaya Governor reconstituted the Single Window Agency for all investments in the state with the Chief Minister as Chairman and Minister-in-charge of Commerce and Industries as the Vice-Chairman, to facilitate and expedite various clearances and investments in the state.
When asked about the environmental concerns associated with the setting up of these industries, Dhar said it is the duty of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) to check whether such factories would cause harm to water bodies and the surrounding areas. He also informed that he has been receiving numerous complaints from residents on health-related issues owing to the proximity of these factories to residential areas.
Meanwhile, Revenue and Disaster Management Minister, Kyrmen Shylla, who is also the MLA from Khliehriat, said that businesses or factories that do not have proper documents should not be entertained. “It is best to have consultation among the headmen, doloi's (traditional chiefs), etc, before issuing NOC (No Objection Certificate) to the coke factories.
But being a local representative, I urge the people of East Jaintia Hills to know and follow the rules before issuing NOC otherwise we might (end up) making a mistake."
He also reiterated that only those factories that have valid papers and are in adherence with the environmental norms should be allowed to function as they have invested a lot of money.
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