Coal mining in Meghalaya is never going to be the same affair again. The draft mining plan, if implemented, is likely to give mine owners a run for their money. From five litres of drinking water for every miner to free safety boots in every six months and safety ladder, the plan demands a lot from the mine owners. Such facilities had been far beyond imagination for the miners digging into the rat-holes so far. On environment front too, the plan seeks measures like treatment of polluted water before being released, digging of trenches around coal dumping areas. None of these measures are followed ever in the state. Although government maintains in the draft plan that coal mining had been viewed as a traditional practice and cottage industry, the wealth accumulated by those in mining business shows a different picture. Thousands of trucks of coal were used to be carried every day from coal belts across Khasi-Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills every day till the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it last year.
The government had justified its having no regulation for coal mining by citing an approval by the Centre to a request by Meghalaya government after formation of the state not to “disturb” the coal mining sector with regulations. The government then reasoned its request saying it was viewed as a traditional practice, but the present government had to admit that sufficient damage has been caused to the environment due to the lack of regulation. It took successive governments decades to understand the folly! Another decade would have passed had there been no NGT order to show the government what is happening in its own backyard.
The clauses in the mining plan are not final, but they cannot be eased for mine owners’ favour. The NGT has sent it to the ministry of coal and ministry of forest and environment seeking their views. The Central ministries are not likely to make it less strict for the mine owners. If implemented, the mining plan will see a huge drop in the profit margins of the coal barons, many of whose wealth is valued at hundreds of crores of rupees. They have to part with their profit for ensuring environment protection and safety of miners. It will pose more challenge for the small mine owners to comply with the norms as they would involve additional costs. It also remains to be seen whether the mine workers would adjust with the safety gears or prefer the ‘good old way’.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on October 7, 2015)