WP (C) No. 387 of 2016. Case: Sohbar Sirdarship Elaka Vs State of Meghalaya and Ors.. Meghalaya High Court

Case NumberWP (C) No. 387 of 2016
Party NameSohbar Sirdarship Elaka Vs State of Meghalaya and Ors.
CounselFor Appellant: H.L. Shangreiso, Adv. and For Respondents: N.D. Chullai, Sr. GA and S. Bhattacharjee, GA
JudgesDinesh Maheshwari, C.J. and Ved Prakash Vaish, J.
IssueConstitution of India - Article 294; North-eastern Areas Reorganisation Act, 1971 - Section 51
Judgement DateFebruary 07, 2017
CourtMeghalaya High Court

Order:

Dinesh Maheshwari, C.J.

Preliminary:

  1. By way of this writ petition, the petitioner yet again seeks a writ of mandamus that the respondent-State of Meghalaya be directed to share 50% share of the amount of royalty received on excavation of minerals from the land in question. As shall be noticed hereafter, in the past, this Court had repeatedly declined the writ jurisdiction to the same petitioner on the same claim of 50% share of royalty with the specific findings that the petitioner was not entitled to the claimed relief for laches as also for acquiescence. However, undeterred by such decisions, the petitioner has chosen to approach this Court again, this time with the assertion that an alleged fresh cause of action has accrued due to the deemed renewal of mining lease w.e.f. 24.06.2013.

  2. After having heard the learned counsel for the petitioner as also the learned Senior Government Advocate; and having perused the material placed on record, we have clearly come to the conclusion that this repeat petition on the same cause is nothing but an abuse of the process of Court and deserves to be dismissed with exemplary costs as also with other necessary directions.

  3. For the order proposed to be passed in this matter, it appears appropriate that the relevant background aspects be taken note of in requisite details.

    Claim of the petitioner:

  4. The petitioner is said to be the customary seat of Sirdarship in the name of 'Sohbar Sirdarship Elaka' and is represented by the present Sirdar. The claim of the petitioner in this petition is founded on the submissions that the elders/Sirdar of Sohbar Sirdarship and the erstwhile East India Company/British India, represented by the then Governor-General, entered into an agreement in the year 1829 whereby, the mineral limestone, good, bad and indifferent, deposited within the Sohbar Sirdarship Elaka (Areas) was divided between the parties in the ratio 50:50; and it was agreed that in the event of extraction or exploitation of limestone within Sohbar Sirdarship Elaka, the Government would be entitled to collect 50% of royalty but the remaining 50% would be retained by the people of Sohbar Sirdarship for themselves, by virtue of being the owners of the land. According to the petitioner, on 29.05.1940, the then Deputy Commissioner, United Khasi and Jaintia Hills, on behalf of the erstwhile Provincial Government of Assam, entered into a mining settlement with the Assam Bengal Cement Company Limited for extraction/exploitation of limestone from an area admeasuring 12.04 bighas within Sohbar Sirdarship for a period of 10 years (to be renewed for a further period of 20 years) for the purpose of supply of limestone to Chhatak under Sylhet District of Provincial Assam; and when exploitation of limestone started in the year 1940, the Provincial Government of Assam started sharing 50% royalty with the petitioner as per the aforesaid agreement of the year 1829.

  5. The case of the petitioner is, and has always been, that until the year 1951, some payments were made by the Government of Assam towards its share of royalty but thereafter, the Government of Assam abruptly stopped making payment of the share of royalty to the petitioner, though the said Assam Bengal Company Limited continued with its limestone mining operations. The petitioner has further pointed out that the Government of Assam entered into an agreement with the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District Council on the sharing of mining royalty in the ratio of 40:60.

  6. The petitioner has also averred that in the year 1971, the respondent No. 8 Komorrah Limestone Mining Company Limited (hereinafter referred to as 'the respondent-company'), being a joint venture company, with the present State of Meghalaya holding 50% share therein, came into existence essentially for the purpose of revival of limestone mining in and around the area in question. It is averred that the petitioner raised serious objections against the mining of limestone by the respondent-company just after creation of the State of Meghalaya without its consent and without sharing of royalty whereupon, several meetings took place but the respondent-State, without the consent of the petitioner, formerly executed the Mining Agreement dated 25.06.1973 for 20 years (extendable to another 20 years) with the respondent-company under Rule 31 of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 for mining of limestone over an area admeasuring 240.55 hectares of which, according to the petitioner, 100 acres of land belongs to it.

  7. The petitioner has referred to Section 58 of the Assam Re-Organization (Meghalaya) Act, 1969, Section 51 of the North Eastern Area (Re-Organization) Act, 1971, and Article 294 of the Constitution of India to submit that the present State of Meghalaya has acquired all the rights as also all the liabilities and obligations arising from the aforesaid agreement of the year 1829. Hence, it is asserted that the State of Meghalaya is obliged to part with 50% of the amount of royalty, received on excavation of the mineral limestone from the area in question, in favour of the petitioner. It is further averred that the petitioner's claim for share of royalty remained under active consideration of the Government; and on the other hand, the respondent-company entered into an agreement dated 25.05.1990 (with the petitioner) to pay local tolls for extracting and exploitation of limestone within the jurisdiction of the petitioner and started making payment of such tolls from the year 1990 onwards.

  8. The essence of claim in this petition is that as per the agreement of the year 1829, the petitioner has the right to receive 50% of royalty accruing for the mining operations in the area in question; and its claim of such 50% share of royalty remained under consideration of the State Government. It is, however, asserted that the respondent-company carrying on mining operations had been making payment of tolls to the petitioner.

    Successive litigations and results thereof:

  9. Now and at this juncture, apposite it shall be to take note of the litigations taken up by the petitioner on its claim for the share of royalty and the results thereof. The series of litigations by the petitioner on this claim for the share of royalty commenced in the year 1991 when the petitioner filed a writ petition in the then jurisdictional High Court i.e., Hon'ble Gauhati High Court, being WP (C) No. 42 (SH) of 1991, seeking direction against the State respondents for release of its 50% share of royalty. Admittedly, the original mining lease was renewed on 14.06.1994 for another 20 years during the pendency of the said writ petition; and though the State continued to collect the royalty and other charges on such mineral excavation but nothing was made over to the petitioner towards the share, as sought to be claimed.

  10. The said writ petition bearing No. 42 (SH) of 1991 was ultimately considered and allowed by a learned Single Judge of the Gauhati High Court on 25.05.1995. The learned Single Judge took note of the suggestion on behalf of the State respondents that they were making over the share of royalty to the District Council and found that such a payment to the District Council by the State was not a payment to the inhabitants of Sohbar village under the agreement of the year 1829. The learned Single Judge further observed that the said agreement of the year 1829 was standing on its own footing and was holding good by virtue of Article 294 of the Constitution of India. The learned Judge was further of the view that the Government, if had paid more than 50% to the District Council on account of limestone royalty, should direct the said District Council to pay the dues of Sohbar village to the tune of 50% of the overall collection. The observations and directions by the learned Single Judge in the order dated 25.05.1995 had been as under:-

    25.05.1995

    ........ According to me, payment to the District Council and an agreement with the District Council is not a payment to the inhabitants of Sohbar village under the agreement of 1829. This agreement stands on its own footing and has been entered into with the East India Company and this agreement still holds good as per Article 294 of the Constitution of India. As such, I direct the respondent to pay 50% of the production of limestone for the period for which they have not paid any money to the village people of Sohbar.

    According to me, if, however the Govt. has paid more than 50% to the District Council on account of the limestone collection, the Govt. should direct the District Council to pay the dues of the Sohbar village which is 50% of the overall collection.

    In view of the above, I direct the Govt. and the District Council to take steps for making payment of the dues of the inhabitants of Sohbar as aforesaid. The...

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