As Meghalaya BJP has said, it will be very difficult to get Centre convinced to exempt the state from Central mining laws through a Presidential notification, as allegedly mandated in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The coal mining ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has hit the state’s economy hard for the past two years. The government is under tremendous pressure (from mining lobby) to ensure mining resumed. The pressure is even more as a good section of the state’s cabinet and ruling MLAs are also into the business. On the other hand, the BJP too has projected itself on the miners’ side, against the Congress-led government. The party maintains that the state government is yet to re-submit the scientific mining plan, which was earlier rejected by the concerned Central ministry and sought a ‘customised and not copied’ mining plan in accordance to the geographical situation in the state. The BJP quoted the Centre as terming the mining plan to be copied from other states even as the mining conditions are unique in the state with thinner layers of coal spreading across a vast area.
The BJP’s doubt over the state government getting exemption from the Central mining laws is that the case of illegal rat-hole mining is still pending in the state. Effluents from coal mines damaging water resources in downstream areas was the basic contention of a PIL that led to the mining ban two years ago. Another concern was that the mining activity was not benefiting the economy and common people as such as a ‘mining mafia’ was taking control affair of the whole state. If fact, it is said that all assembly elections in Meghalaya, especially in Khasi-Jaintia Hills, are fought with coal miners’ money. It is this unaccounted, but huge money, from the so-far-unregulated sector that is sometimes blamed for toppling government overnight in the state. Besides worrying for the state exchequer, the government as well as the BJP, which is spreading its base very fast in the state, has other reasons to be on the side of the miners. Some of the speakers at a BJP press conference were coal miners themselves, although they said they had been with the party ‘for long’.
Given a chance, no political party in the state would stand against the rampant unscientific way of coal mining that caused ‘death’ to a number of rivers in coal-rich Jaintia Hills region. Bottled water has been the way of life in the water abundant region. Most people left cultivation either due to effluents from mines making their fields acidic or the lure of easy money from mining sector. There had been absolutely no government regulation on the sector that government admits was a major revenue earning source. Protecting safety and rights of mine workers was never thought of by the government until the NGT opened its eyes, albeit too late. Now that every party wants exemption for the state from Central mining laws they should also make it clear if they want to go back to the same ‘traditional system’? If environment does not matter to them at all since the politics has to be fuelled by coal miners? The NGT, probably, has the same worry and not lifting the ban till now.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on August 19, 2016)