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Coal mining: Private vrs Public interest

 

Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma is repeating in the Assembly what he had stated in the March session which is that he would seek the invocation of Para 12A(b) of the Sixth Schedule so that laws made by Parliament would not apply to Sixth Schedule State like Meghalaya. This statement contradicts what he had stated publicly not so long ago. Sangma had then stated that coal is available abundantly in Meghalaya but that did not mean that it should be extracted and exploited relentlessly without any concern for the environment. In fact that was also the time when the deaths of nine miners inside the coal mines of Garo Hills had occurred and the State had been hauled up for its slow response to the issue and for not investigating the deaths with urgency. Those who heard the CM’s statement at the time appreciated his foresight because it was evident that coal mining in Meghalaya was not environmentally sustainable. That was before the National Green Tribunal banned coal mining in Meghalaya. At the time there were several reports of rivers having turned toxic and devoid of marine life. Forests had been brought down by twisting the laws and redefining the very nomenclature of what actually constitutes a forest. Environmental NGOs protested loudly against the callousness of the coal mafia. But their pleas went unheard. It was only after the Dima Hasao Student’s Union of Assam took the matter to the Supreme Court that the NGT was told to take a call on the issue. The students’ body pointed to the toxicity of the rivers that had hitherto been their source of potable water. The NGT took serious note of this petition and banned coal mining in Meghalaya almost immediately in April 2014. Naturally this has had a cascading impact on the State’s economy. Meghalaya lost about Rs 600 crore as revenue from coal mining and transportation. Meghalaya had drafted the State Mining and Minerals Act but had failed to implement it because it did not fall in line with the Central Mining laws which are more stringent and which also allow for corporatisation of mines which the mine owners here were wary about. Mining in Meghalaya is a private business and the mines belong to tribals so there was no question of paying income taxes or of filing any financial returns which would become compulsory once the mining activity is centrally regulated. The CM has admitted publicly that his wife owns coal mines too. He would therefore not want to bring any law that would jeopardize her income from that source. This is where a clash of interests prevents the implementation of any law. Why should mining in Meghalaya be governed by a separate law? The central mining laws have very clear directives about environmental protection measures to be undertaken by the mining companies. These companies are also subjected to the Companies Act 2013 as well as the provisions of the Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules 2014 which came into effect from April 2014. This rule stipulates that every company, private limited or public limited, which either has a net worth of Rs 500 crore or a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore, needs to spend at least 2% of its average net profit for the immediately preceding three financial years on corporate social responsibility activities. We are well aware that the private mine owners have not paid a single penny towards CSR activities till date. The profits raked in over the decades has not been put into any productive use such as setting up schools, hospitals or even reclaiming abandoned mines which have become huge dangerous craters that would result in a holocaust should an earthquake of high intensity strike us. These issues don’t seem to be important to the CM but he is in a hurry to resume mining activities. This limited vision is not what Meghalaya requires from its leader. Has this young leader lost his imagination and creativity? Is the financial burden bearing him down? Meghalaya deserves better!

 

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