The alleged coal scam has created displeasure among coalition partners.
With a scam about illegal transportation of coal rocking the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma effected a Cabinet reshuffle late on Tuesday, stripping his elder brother James Sangma of the Home portfolio. The new Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui is a leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) which is an alliance partner of the National Peoples’ Party (NPP)-led MDA. Sources said that the decision to strip James Sangma of the coveted portfolio is due to his alleged involvement in the illegal coal transportation scam which has created a lot of discontent and displeasure among coalition partners.
James Sangma’s name in the scam cropped up when the Lokayukta ordered transfer of his special assistant along with the superintendent of police (SP) and deputy commissioner (DC) of East Jaintia Hills, SPs of land customs stations in the state and secretary, mining and geology department, among others, within 10 days after receipt of official order to facilitate uninterrupted inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while hearing a petition filed by Abhijit Basumatary.
The petitioner in his petition claimed that “since 2015 till date, per day minimum 400 trucks of loading coal have been transporting illegally from West Jaintia Hills, district-Khilehriat to Assam Barak valley and Khilehriat to Guwahati without production of valid legal documents by violating the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court with the help of police personnel and civil administration and Mining and Geology department of the government of Meghalaya”. Following this, the Lokayukta transferred the case to the CBI in January this year.
Sources said that MDA coalition partners have been mounting pressure on Chief Minister Conrad Sangma to strip James Sangma of the Home portfolio, as it has damaged the image of the NPP-led MDA coalition, giving rise to public criticism. However, NPP and UDP leaders denied such claims and said that it was a normal reshuffling and part of a coalition agreement to reshuffle the Cabinet after completion of two years. “It is a pre-decided reshuffle. It has nothing to do with the allegations against James Sangma,” Kyrmen Shylla told The Sunday Guardian.
A senior leader of NPP told The Sunday Guardian that the decision was taken by Chief Minister and it was a normal reshuffle. “There is nothing to fuss about it. Everything is fine and normal,” he said requesting anonymity as no one from the party is authorised to speak on this as Cabinet reshuffling is the Chief Minister’s prerogative.
The Opposition Congress, on the other hand, claimed that the reshuffle indicates the acceptance of NPP that there are anomalies in the state and that the Home minister has miserably failed to control it. “The government is not cooperating with the Lokayukta and CBI; it certainly raises doubt over the intention of the government and its transparency,” Congress leader and MLA G.B. Lyngdoh said.
It must be pointed out here that the Meghalaya government had earlier challenged the Lokayukta’s order to transfer officials whose involvement is alleged by the petitioner. According to media reports, the Meghalaya government wanted either to modify or recall the order and questioned the jurisdiction of the CBI and authority of the Lokayukta. However, the Lokayukta had pulled up the state government for interfering and undermining his independent power to function as a statutory anti-corruption authority by opposing CBI inquiry and demanding a probe by state police agency.