Meghalaya village turns oasis in coal mine desert


Moolamylliang,
a village in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, is making progress in becoming a greener place amid abandoned pits from the rat-hole mining.

    • The Jaintia Coal Miners and Dealers’ Association claims there are around 60,000 coal mines across 360 villages in East Jaintia Hills district.
    • Moolamylliang used to be one such village until the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned hazardous rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya in April 2014 and set a time limit for transporting the coal already mined till that time.
    • Though the NGT ban did not stop illegal mining in the district, it helped Moolamylliang reform.
  • Coal Mining in Northeast:
    • In the northeast, coal mining is part of a larger trend which is the decimation of natural resources.
      • For example, there is large-scale deforestation going on in the Garo and Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, besides limestone mining in the Jaintia Hills.
      • Assam, which has lost most of its once extensive forest cover, sees poaching in the Dima Hasao region, coal mining in Upper Assam, and sand/stone mining from river beds.
    • There are three notable peculiarities of coal mining in the Jaintia Hills (and elsewhere in Meghalaya).
      • Being a tribal state where the 6th Schedule applies, all land is privately owned, and hence coal mining is done by private parties. The schedule does not explicitly refer to mining.
      • The sizable coal deposits in the state, mostly in the Jaintia Hills, occur in horizontal seams only a few feet high that run through the hills which is why rat-hole mining is practised instead of open cast mining.
      • Most of the labour (including children) comes from Nepal, the poorer areas of Assam, and Bangladesh. In Meghalaya, the non-tribal is a second-class citizen, as is the poor tribal, which explains the general lack of concern even within the State about the trapped miners.
    • Rat-hole Mining:
      • It is a term used for a hazardous and arduous mining technique where miners crawl into winding underground tunnels that are just 4-5 feet in diameter to extract coal from the deep seams with a pickaxe.
    • Open Cast Mining:
      • It is a surface mining technique of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open-air pit, sometimes known as a borrow.
  • Major Issues:
    • Ecological Issues: Unsustainable mining in hilly areas contaminates the farmlands and turns the streams acidic,leading to the loss of biodiversity and local heritage.
    • Health Issues: The prevalence of mining in an area causes various diseases like fibrosis, pneumoconiosis and silicosis in workers as well as locals.
    • Child Labour and Trafficking: Majority of the workers involved in ‘rat-hole’ mining are children. They are suited for this job because of their small anatomy that fits small mine tunnels. Rat-hole mining has encouraged child traffickingapart from engaging with immigrants from many states.
    • Corruption: Police officials often collaborate with mine owners in states where the open cast mining and rat hole mining are the norms.
  • Remedial Measures:
    • The administration tried to make coke factories and cement plants in the vicinity contribute to earth rejuvenation programmes in the area under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
    • Among the projects being pursued is low-cost rainwater harvesting for recharging the area that has become dry because of coal mining.
    • Making Moolamylliang a base camp for tourists to explore caves, canyons and waterfalls in parts of East Jaintia Hills that have escaped the impact of mining, will boost tourism and bring in revenue.
    • Since the 6th Schedule does not explicitly refer to mining, environmental activists are calling for the coal trade to come under central mining and environmental laws.

Government Initiatives 

  • In April 2018, the Ministry of Coal launched the Unlocking Transparency by Third Party Assessment of Mined Coal (UTTAM) Application for coal quality monitoring.
  • Na­tional Min­eral Pol­icy (NMP) was ap­proved in 2019, which em­pha­sises­ on themes such as sus­tain­able min­ing, boost­ing ex­plo­ration, en­cour­ag­ing the use of state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy and skill de­vel­op­ment.
  • In Septem­ber 2019, 100% FDI un­der the au­to­matic ap­proval route was allowed for the sale of coal and coal min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing as­so­ci­ated pro­cess­ing in­fra­struc­ture.
  • In January 2020, the Parliament passed the Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
    • It amends the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015.
      • The 1957 Act regulates the mining sector in India and specifies the requirement for obtaining and granting mining leases for mining operations.
      • The 2015 Act provides for allocation of coal mines and vesting of the right, title and interest in and over the land and mine infrastructure together with mining leases to successful bidders with a view to ensure continuity in coal mining operations and production of coal.
    • The Bill per­mits com­mer­cial coal min­ing for lo­cal and global firms with­out im­pos­ing any end-user re­stric­tions, also it ex­tend­s the va­lid­ity of clear­ances for min­ing leases ex­pir­ing in 2020.
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