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Coal fields in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya are deserted now. Some private schools are closed after migrant workers pulled out their children to leave the coal belt in search of greener pasture. But, colleges in the region are chock-a-block. The crisis is such that over 200 students took the protest route after they were denied admission in the Kiang Nabgbah Government College at Jowai, headquarters of West Jaintia Hills district. These students are hell bent on getting into the college since they cannot afford higher education in any private college. This does not mean there are too many colleges in the private sector. The whole region comprising two districts has only two more colleges – one private and one deficit. East Jaintia Hills, dotted with thousands of coal mines where “easy money” was aplenty till the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban came in April, has only one college.

Little has been spent from the hundreds of crores the government earned from the coal trade in improving education infrastructure in the region. It appears the coal trade has done more harm than good in education. There was hardly any talk apart from money. There was an uneasy calm even among people who felt for the environment. They did not dare speak about the drastic impact of mining on land and water resources because they felt threatened by the money and muscle power of the coal traders. Rapes and murders were almost day-to-day affair, till the mining came to a grinding halt. Certainly, there was no place for education. When it comes to Jaintia Hills, government agencies too hardly thought beyond coal and limestone.

Now, there is a breathing space in Jaintia Hills, to allow government agencies and others to give more thrust on overall development of the region. Education should be a priority. Having just three colleges among two districts of one of the highest populated regions in the state is ridiculous. Till the other day, many people may not have felt the need for education since they could make a lot of money from mining without even recognising the alphabets. Many of Meghalaya’s legislators and members of district councils (MDCs), who rose to power on the sole strength of their coal business, are not even matriculates. Their lack of education could have been one of the reasons for environment taking such a beating over the years, prompting the ban by the NGT.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 27, 2014)