Ledo-Margherita: AN UNTOLD STORY
TINSUKIA: The illegal coal mining in Ledo-Margherita has reached an extreme height during the past few years. With the involvement of big players in the illegal trade running into several hundred crore of rupees, the question arises as to who will bell the cat? Illegal activities are rampant in every spheres of mining operation, be it in extraction, transportation, documentation both within and outside operational and leasehold areas of North Eastern Coalfields (NEC) across Margherita sub-division of Tinsukia district of Assam and Kharsang of Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh all along the Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary which forms the largest stretch of tropical rainforest in India. Though hard regulatory mechanisms exist on Assam side, plundering of coal in Kharsang is extensive with no laws to regulate other than their own.
The NEC, a unit of Coal India Limited had been practicing open cast mining since 1983 under demarcated operational areas. Tirap and Tikok Collieries and surrounding hills are the major operational areas of both legal and illegal coal trade with National Highway-38 and a railhead being the only transit routes. Due to high sulphur content, the raw coal either procured legally or illegally is processed in innumerable coke oven plants (coke bhatta) that have mushroomed just opposite to National Highway-38 from Borgolai to Jagun.
The racket is deep-rooted with alleged involvement of police, politicians, local mafia, transporters, a section of Coal India officials as well as officials of the Legal Metrology (Weight and Measures), Forest Department, coal mining operators, middle men and others. While the State Pollution Control Board which is the main regulatory that oversees functioning of coke bhattas and the District Industries and Commerce Centre — the two regulatory bodies that oversee functioning of coke bhattas, allegedly failed to act as per official norms. The District Industries and Commerce Centre is allegedly the facilitator. Though registration of coke bhattas is made mandatory, the coal is either being transported with forged documents or without any valid document.
The quantum of illegal operation is more in Namdang and Ardhora hills situated at the backside of Tirap Colliery in Assam-Arunachal border. While huge number excavators being used for bulk extraction in the foothills, the rat-hole technique has been reported in coal seam layer on top of the hills. Though the entire forest is under the leasehold areas of NEC, the illegal extraction has been carried out at the behest of NSCN militants as the area lies in close proximity to Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The forest being inaccessible without any proper road checking of illegal activities becomes a daunting and life threatening task for any official.
While stealing of coal from designated NEC coal stockyard by migrant labours amounts to moderate, the bulk of illegal coal extracted unscientifically from mines of Namdang, Ardhora has become a major concern for NEC officials and a threat to environment.
An astronomical quantum of coalapproximately 8000 metric tonnes valued between Rs 40 to Rs 50 lakh are transported daily by 350-400 heavy trucks fitted with 14-20 wheels. As the load carrying capacity of these trucks is relative to axle load and after the Government increased the load capacity by 20-25, overloading has been a menace with deterioration of roads and increasing number road accidentsand hazards in absence proper check mechanism.
On the socio-economic front as many as 1000-1500 migrant labourers, mini truck operators are directly engaged in the extraction and manual transportation, more than 20,000 people and their families engaged in petty business, hotels are sustaining on illegal coal. Drug abuse and prostitution are also having a field day in the Ledu belt. According to Bhaskar Sharma, MLA Margherita who denying his involvement in illicit coal business said ‘If illegal coal trade is banned, at least 80 per cent markets in Margherita, Ledu and Jagun will go dry’ and so also apprehend of losing his vote bank.
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