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The Ban on Rat-hole Mining

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

The tiol Green Tribul (NGT) is understandably annoyed at its earlier directives on rat-hole mining in Meghalaya being violated not only by two coal mine owners but also by Meghalaya government officials. It will be recalled that the NGT had carried out an investigation into the subhuman conditions of coal mining in Meghalaya where miners are uble even to walk upright in the rrow tunnels built in the coal mines. For as long as one can remember, coal mining in Meghalaya has been carried on in the most hazardous and inhuman conditions. Miners have to crawl in the rrow tunnels in order to dig and move out their loaded baskets. It is not for nothing that such hazardous methods of mining are referred to as rat-hole mining. After its prelimiry investigations, the NGT banned rat-hole mining and transportation of coal in Meghalaya on April 17, 2014. On September 1, 2014, the NGT gave clearance for transportation of extracted and assessed coal on an application made by miners. On March 9, 2015 the Meghalaya government admitted a revenue dip in 2014-15 because of the adverse impact of the NGT ban. A week later, the Meghalaya government gave an estimate of a revenue loss of around Rs 600 crore in 2014-15 on account of the MGT ban. Thereafter the Union Coal Ministry constituted an expert group, led by the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd, to prepare broad guidelines for coal mining in Meghalaya. The task of preparing the guidelines on health, occupatiol safety and related issues was entrusted to the Directorate General of Mines Safety. It is significant that on the same day (March 16, 2015) the NGT also issued notices to high-ranking Meghalaya government officials and two coal mine owners after a report pointed out that the Tribul’s directions issued earlier had been violated. The Tribul’s principal bench, which passed its orders in New Delhi, also refused to allow transportation of coal in the State. “We have perused the report filed by the three learned local commissioners. It shows that upon physical inspection, the commissioners have found that all directions of the Tribul are being violated. They have annexed photographs and records of the weighbridges to the report and have referred to the statements of parties who were found to be involved in the illegal mining and transportation,” the principal bench, headed by Tribul chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said in its order. The Tribul had constituted a team of local commissioners on January 29 this year to visit weighbridges, mining sites and places where implementation of the orders was expected and to periodically report to the Tribul about the implementation of orders passed from time to time. The bench ordered issuance of notice to the Meghalaya Secretary of Mining and Geology, the Director of Mining, the Additiol Director-general of Police, the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police of East Jaintia Hills and to Sarkia Pawa and Prakash Pawa, the owners of the mines from which illegal mining had been carried out. The persons involved in the flouting of the earlier orders of the NGT were asked to show cause why attachment of properties and bank accounts of the State should not be carried out and why they should not be detained in the civil prison for intentiol default to comply with earlier directions and orders. They were also asked to show cause why they should not be directed to pay compensation for restoration of the environment resulting from illegal and uuthorized mining.

This is precisely the kind of strictness with which such offences that cause destruction of the environment and ecology should be handled regardless of the loss to the State government’s revenues. However, punitive measures alone are bound to be counter-productive unless the NGT can enlist the help of the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd to restructure the existing coal mines of Meghalaya and to bring them to the level of more civilized mines that address the issues of health and occupatiol safety of the miners and eble them to work in the mines in an upright position instead of having to crawl in them. The mine owners must be compelled to carry out all the modifications and changes recommended.

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