It’s better for Meghalaya to reduce its dependence on coal revenue. There is a strong likelihood of imposition of a much more stringent regime, provided the National Green Tribunal (NGT) withdrew the current ban. The government has already submitted a mining plan, as required by the NGT, which requires the mine owners to procure not less than seven different permissions. As of now, they have none! The government even does not know, on paper, as who has mines where? And why would the ‘government’ bother to know because many in the government are coal barons themselves. However, under the proposed policy, becoming a millionaire will be a hard task. Coal will then no more be regarded as a private wealth, as had been the case till the NGT ban came in 2014.

The discovery of an illegal coal depot on the outskirts of the city revealed as to how miners are trying to negotiate the set norms in order to increase their profit margins. The coal depot at Laitpynter, around 20 km from Shillong, had around 200 truckloads of coal dumped there, according to an NGT-appointed ‘local commissioner’. The place does not have any coal mines in a 50-km radius and neither was anywhere near to the final destination of the coal. It was a midway stoppage of the coal, apparently originated from Shallang coal belt in West Khasi Hills which is over 100 km away! The allegation is that unscrupulous traders took advantage of the absence of any check gate on the stretch and carried overload till the dumping ground. The coal is offloaded there and then taken in permissible quantity of 9 MT to Guwahati through the NH-40.

It is because of the declining prices of coal from Meghalaya that coal mine owners are adopting different tactics including taking routes with no check gates. The best quality coal that was sold for Rs 7,000 two years ago is now sold for Rs 4,500! Big miners are reluctant sell their coal and keeping the stock in the hope of full-fledged opening of the trade. No wonder, Meghalaya government is seeking repeated extension of the deadline for transportation of the extracted coal. Meanwhile, small miners are being compelled to empty their stock with lower price. Traders say the buyers are taking advantage of their situation (NGT ban). The situation cannot be much better even after the ban is withdrawn because of the stringent rules. It’s time to give a second thought, especially for the small miners, to find alternative means or be content with moderate earnings.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 26, 2016)