NGT Ban: Can the Govt be trusted?

By H H Mohrmen

Time and again we see reports of people in the coal mining business violating the NGT interim ban on rat-hole mining in the state in spite of the state counsel giving assurance under oath to both the NGT and the Supreme Court on behalf of the Government that no violations are taking place. There were reports of active mining going on and there are also reports of overloading violating the 9 tons order of the court. This only brings to light the half-hearted attitude of the State Government towards implementing both the NGT and Supreme Court’s order.

The recent report which brought to light the blatant violation of the Tribunal’s ban was witnessed by NGO leaders in the presence of some press representatives which went to visit the far-off eleka Nongkhlieh and Saipung of East Jaintia hills District. The fact is, mining is not only happening in this part of East Jaintia Hills but also in areas like Sohkymphor which is very close to both Khliehriat and Jowai.

Mining despite the ban is happening in the other parts of the state too. There are reports of mining in the South Garo Hills and also Shallang area of West Khasi hills. So the question is can the NGT and the Supreme Court trust the commitments made by the State?

iolation is the outcome of the wrong estimation of extracted coal done by Government officials. Immediately after imposing the interim ban the NGT directed the State Government to conduct a survey and do an estimation of coal which is still lying in the depots across the state, but there is a huge disparity between coal extracted and the estimation. It is due to the over-estimation by government officials who have acted on the instructions of the NGT which also compels the Tribunal to allow transportation of extracted coal which is true in paper only. The opposite is true because the extracted coal from all depots has been cleared even in the earlier order.

Now the coal mine owners are taking advantage of the Supreme Court order which permits transportation of the ‘supposedly’ extracted coal (because extracted coal was transported many months ago) which compels the miners to engage in mining again despite the ban. Then there is blatant violation of the order with regard to overloading trucks plying on the national highway. The order is that the trucks should not carry more than 9 tons capacity but now the opposite is happening since truck carries les than 10 tonnes of coal.

The intervention of another pressure group in the Shallang area again brought to light the truth that coal mine owners brought cheap labour from across the border of the country which is illegal and is in total violation of the labour laws and regulations of the State. On January 18, an electronic media broadcast from Shillong informed that the Khasi Students Union (KSU) Hynneng Brei area in West Khasi hills in a meeting which was held at the Nongdaju playground discussed the complaint made by local labourers. There is obviously a conflict of interest in the Shallang area where local labours complain that cheap labour which comes from across the border is posing a serious threat to the interest of the local labourers. It was also reported that the move was supported by KSU Mashynrut unit, Hadman Nongchram, Headman Nongdaju, and President HANC Langshongthiang area unit. The report not only confirms the fact that coal mining is still going on but it has also brought to the fore another fact that the coal mine owners are using illegal immigrants who provide cheap labour at the cost of the local labourers. The other issue that the CSWO brought to light is also the concern about the threat to the exotic caves from illegal extraction of coal in the area. The mining area which includes the eleka Narpuh, the eleka Nongkhlieh, eleka Saipung and the entire Pala ridge are also full of caves with exotic formations, some of which are the longest and deepest in the country. In fact in the list of twenty deepest and longest caves in the country more than ninety percent of the longest and deepest caves are found in the area mentioned above.

The caves are storehouses of knowledge and provide information to researchers from across the world, who come to study these caves. They find in these caves rare bats and fish species endemic only to the area. Botanists, zoologists and environmentalists who study climate change use these caves to study the impact of climate change in the area. Their findings are spectacular and provide us information that our region was also affected by the ice age. The state government is obviously not interested to protect and preserve both the cave and the caves’ rare flora and fauna.

The state should hold this as a badge of honour and be proud of the fact that it is blessed with this rare natural heritage but it looks like it is a case of throwing ‘pearls in front of the swine.’ Till now the state government has not done anything to protect and preserve these valuable natural heritages. Our worst fear is that by the time the State Government wakes up from its slumber (like in the case of the dead river) it will be too late. We have lost all the exotic aquatic life in the area due pollution caused by acid mine drainage from coal mining.

It took millions of years for these caves to form but it takes only a moment to destroy them; therefore it is necessary that in the proposed policy the area in which there are caves should be preserved and protected and the areas be declared as no mining zones. Only if we can declare these areas as protected can we protect and preserve the caves which are our own natural heritage.

Not only coal but limestone mining in the state has also caused irreparable damage to the environment. The claim that limestone mining in the area is a customary practice which has been carried over from one generation to another is not only wrong but it also amounts to fooling the public. The system of mining by engaging huge excavators is anything but a customary practice. Large tracts of forest lands were cleared in Nongtalang area of Jaintia hills to make way for free for all mining in the area.

hallans issued for the purpose of supplying coal from the Narpuh area in general and Lumshnong in particular was used for export of limestone from the Dawki or Tamabil check point. The weighbridge recently installed on the Nongtalang-Dawki road allows over-loaded trucks to ply, thereby violating the court order.

The moot point is that very soon the Government will be able to convince the NGT to lift the interim ban on rat-hole mining but can we trust our own Government? We have all witnessed the shoddy manner in which the government enforced the interim ban. Can we trust it with implementing any mechanism to regulate mining in the state? The Government and its agencies which include DMR, the Police and even the Customs and Excise have failed us several times in the past so what assurance can the Govt give to convince us that it is not going to happen again?

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