Several coal, miners, dealers and transporters from East Jaintia Hills took part in a protest rally organised in Meghalaya. Credit: EastMojo image

Shillong: Following the recent tragedy at an illegal ‘rat-hole’ coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, the coal mine owners, dealers and transporters of the East Jaintia Hills have registered protest against the failure of the state government to regulate coal mining in Meghalaya.

To register their protest, several coal dealers and transporters from the area attended a rally recently, in which they raised concerns over the growing economic uncertainty among the people associated with the industry.

“It is not the fault of the displaced coal miners if they still work in mines for food and to earn a living. It is the fault of the government and other authorities as they have failed to take care of the sole bread earners of the state,” argued Balios Swer, president of the Jaintia Coal Miners and Dealers Association.

Pointing out to the economic dependence of the people of the East Jaintia Hills on mining activities, Swer said, “There are at least 360 villages in the Jaintia Hills which houses 50,000-60,000 coal mines. These coal mines once added to a major chunk of the state’s economy. The inhabitants of the district feel much betrayed to see the apathy of the government in their time of need.”

While condemning the two recent incidents of miners getting trapped and losing their lives in illegal mines at Ksan and Jaliah Village, Swer added, “We have taken up the matter in the Supreme Court to allow legal and scientific mining.”

The Supreme Court is all set to hear the plea to lift the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal ( NGT) on the January 15, 2019. With 123 pleas already heard in the NGT and 39 hearings in the Supreme Court, legal charges and fees have also run into lakhs and crores of rupees. Sonny Khyriem, chairman Meghalaya State Co-ordination Committee of Coal Owners, Miners and Dealers Forum said, “We are hopeful that something concrete comes out of the upcoming hearing, where both the state and central government can give a positive response to what the court is asking for.”

With the growing safety and environmental concerns over the ‘rat-hole’ mining in Meghalaya, the NGT had imposed ban on coal mining activities in the East Jaintia Hills district in 2014. The tribunal had acted on a complaint filed by the All Dimasa Students’ Union (ADSU) and Dima Hasao District Committee (DHDC) from Assam before it on April 2, 2014. The ADSU had contended that the illegal mining in the Jaintia Hills was polluting the Kopili River by turning its water acidic.

It took some time for the initial shock to seep in and for the coal traders to fully understand the implications which this ban brought along. There was a major consolation as the transportation of coal which was already extracted was allowed by the NGT as well as the Supreme Court on the plea of the State Co-Ordination Committee of Coal Miners and Mine Owners. The problem started soon after the existing stock of coal started to deplete and expenses, bills and costs found their way into the life-long savings of the coal mine owners and the whole hierarchy associated with coal mining in the district.

While the big mine owners had amassed enough to sustain on the fortune without a regular income, it was the small time miners and the people in the low-rungs who were hit by the ban the most. Dearth of employment generation, job security and food security has forced many to be still engaged in the illegal coal mining and rat hole mining in the state, risking their own lives and also putting the environment at greater risks.

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