NGT ban on rat-hole mining in Meghalaya to continue

National Green Tribunal refuses to lift ban, but allows transportation of coal already extracted

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Wednesday 11 June 2014

A worker squats to pull out a fully laden tray of coal from a hole. When the coal within the pit exhausts, horizontal tunnels are dug through which workers burrow to find coal. Many workers narrate incidents of tunnel roofs collapsing and trapping the workers inside (photograph by P Madhavan)

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has refused to lift its interim ban on rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya, but allowed transportation of already extracted coal kept near the mines. NGT had ordered the interim ban in April 17, this year.

The NGT bench, chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar, has directed the setting up of a six-member committee to prepare an inventory of the extracted coal and submit its report to the tribunal by June 16. Ranjan Mukherjee, advocate for Meghalaya government, said the tribunal refused the plea to lift its interim ban but allowed transportation of extracted coal. He said the state government, one of the petitioners, had presented before the tribunal that around 3.4 million tonnes of extracted coal was lying in the open in the state.

Coal pits to be sealed first

Mukherjee said the transportation of the extracted coal would be allowed after the tribunal-constituted committee works out its modalities. The bench, meanwhile, has asked the deputy commissioners of various districts to seal all coal pits before allowing the transportation of extracted coal.

The royalty recovered from the extracted coal would be distributed between the autonomous district council and the Meghalaya government and this amount will be used for environmental protection of the region.

The NGT had put an interim ban on rat-hole coal mining after the Assam-based All Dimasa Student’s Union and Dima Hasao district committee filed a petition, stating the acidic discharge from unscientific coal mines of Meghalaya was polluting the Kopili river downstream. 

Unscientific mining

Meghalaya has a total coal reserve of 640 million tonnes, most of which is mined unscientifically by individuals and communities. As a result, the water sources of many rivers, especially in Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic.

In another case related to coal mining, in which 15 coal miners went missing after a coal mine accident on July 6, 2012, at Nengkol in South Garo hills district, NGT has ordered that witnesses be produced during the next hearing on the case on August 1.

“The NGT was not convinced regarding a National Disaster Response Force report that nobody was found inside the mine. In the next hearing there would be cross-examination of all the parties involved in the case,” Mukherjee said.

Order: Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding illegal, unregulated and indiscriminate rat-hole mining being carried on in various parts of the State of Meghalaya, 09/06/2014

Order: Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding rat-hole coal mining in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya, 17/04/2014

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