Meghalaya HC: Don't bow to political pressure to check illegal coal mining
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Kolkata: The closure of coal mines in Margherita in Assam’s Tinsukia district has not only impacted the local economy adversely but also caused job losses, livelihood changes and migration of workers to faraway places with uncertain future, an IIT-Kanpur study revealed.

The field-level case study conducted by the premier institute’s Just Transition Research Centre (JTRC) showed that “inconsistent support” from corporate social responsibility and the District Mineral Foundation Trust could make the situation worse for people dependent on coal after the suspension of mining activities.

Of the 172 respondents, 108 said there had been drastic changes in the livelihoods of coal workers and non-worker residents of Margherita, following the shutdowns of the mines, said the JTRC survey, ‘Life After Coal Mine Closure’ released here.

Fifty-two percent said their level of income had decreased, and 20 percent had lost their jobs. Thirteen percent faced business recession. For example, a local sweets shop owner reported that when the mines were open, he used to earn Rs 3-4 lakh a month but after the closure, his business considerably declined, the report mentioned.

After the shutdown of mines, workers are left with no choice but to take up various work at lower wages, it said.

Mostly, there are no closure plans in place for the contractual workers, leaving them worse off and vulnerable, the report said, citing the experience of Salim Ali, a resident of Hamukjan village, who worked on contract for 17 years as a supervisor in an outsourcing company in Ledo colliery in Margherita and has no regular source of income since 2018 after the mine closure.

Similar is the condition of “more than 250 contractual workers”.

The study also showcased Sanjay Ujir, a dumper driver in Tirap Colliery who lost his job after the mine’s closure and started working as a daily wage earner.

The condition of contractual workers and labourers worsened to the point they starved for nights and female family members went into prostitution, the study revealed citing a teary-eyed respondent.

According to respondents, the majority of workers, who did not have any technical knowledge or capital, left the place and went to Odisha, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana and Kerala, and others opted for petty businesses.

The objective of our study is to find ground reality and socio-economic impact of the closure of mines under North Eastern Coalfields. In view of climate change and environmental degradation, the energy transition is taking place.

Contestation between mining and ecology exists but people are the centre of policies. And what we found that locals whose livelihoods are dependent on the mining projects are instrumental for pitching for a continuation of fossil fuel,” IIT Kanpur’s JTRC coordinator and humanities and social sciences department professor Pradip Swarnakar told PTI.

To achieve sustainable livelihood after a coal mine closure, the polices must think beyond jobs, he said, adding that there should be a well-thought transition framework in these cases, otherwise people will suffer.

In Margherita, mining operations in Tikak, Tirap opencast projects (OCPs) were stopped two-three years ago, while Tipong underground mine and Ledo OCP were discontinued in 2018, the study said, adding that Baragolai colliery closed in 2010.

Among various reasons, these mines were closed mainly due to environmental grounds, Swarnakar said.

However, the mining operation resumed in Tikak colliery early this year.

The report also recommends the integration of CSR measures into the core business operations of the industry.

“The analysis from the study on Margherita coal mines revealed that the CSR activities in the area had limited outcomes despite the substantial expenditure of money and efforts by the industry. Most of them were short-term mitigation of business impact. Annual CSR activities numbered 10-12 in 2011-2014 but were reduced to one each in 2015 and 2016,” JTRC post-doctoral fellow Riti Chatterjee told PTI.

The company should conduct a needs assessment before undertaking any such initiative and must carry out an impact assessment, she added.

When contacted, a North Eastern Coalfields official declined to make any comment on the findings of the report, and also did not respond to a set of queries till the publication of the article.

Citing the findings of the study that a central hospital in Margherita was extremely beneficial to the people there even after the mine closure, the researcher said strong institutional support in the health and education sectors enhances the resilience of a community against the adversities of the suspension of mining.

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