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Meghalaya Mining | People for the Planet

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

A ₹1 lakh rupee cheque in hand, Solibar Rehman was told that he would never see his 20 year old son ever again. He, along with 15 more miners was trapped in a 2 ft wide coal mine, rightly called a ‘rat-hole.’

Rat-hole mining is primarily practiced in the state of Meghalaya. Due to loss of livelihood, lack of employment opportunities and education, people see rat-hole mines as an opportunity to earn their daily bread. In hilly terrain, digging a big hole for mining activity is difficult, so rat hole mines are preferred instead. Moreover, the coal seams in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are thick, whereas, Meghalaya has thinner seams so a ‘rat-hole’ seems more logical and is dug without calculating the consequences.

As these tunnels are quite narrow, more often children enter and extract coal. In 2014, the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole mining as it is the most unsafe and unscientific way of mining. This illegal mining has environmental repercussions in and around the mining area.

The practice leads to extensive water, soil and air pollution. Due to shortage of space, the sulphur-rich coal is stored around water bodies. This way, Kopili river has turned acidic. The coal is piled on the roadsides in and around the mine. The ecology of the area is further degraded due to heavy vehicle movement.

The way how rat-hole mining violates Human Rights doesn’t need an explanation. Lives are lost, families are broken and children drift from their way to the right future. Since rat-hole mining is illegal, it is practiced behind shut doors, and hence, no one wants to invest in its infrastructure development. The NGT (National Green Tribunal) order bans not only rat-hole mining but all “unscientific and illegal mining.” But orders of the Tribunal have been violated without exception since the State Government has failed to check illegal mining effectively.

Some private groups and investors say, “the Constitution's 6th Schedule intends to protect the communities’ ownership over its land and autonomy and consent over its nature of use.” This provision is exploited and corrupted to put lives and the ecosystem at risk. It is certain that in the future, controversies involving rat hole mining will increase and the Central and State Governments ought to take steps in a civil manner to stop such a barbaric and illegitimate practice.

-Esha Sharma


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