Fear of cave collapse as digging continues
SHILLONG: Despite stringent orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against rat-hole mining in Meghalaya, there is rampant mining, especially in areas falling under Elaka Nongkhlieh and Elaka Sutnga, in East Jaintia Hills district.
The CSWO and media persons, while going towards the villages falling under Sutnga and Nongkhlieh Elaka, near Saipung village on January 14, noticed rat-hole mines in villages of Khaidong and Moolasngi under Nongkhlieh Elaka that is destroying plantation and forests.
Those who carry out illegal mining are putting at risk thousands of lives who would be affected if the caves collapse as rat-hole mining is done below the caves.
On further inquiry, the workers (miners) revealed the owners of the coal mines are Syrpai Sutnga, Myngkren Shadap, Victor Suja, Nehlang Lyngdoh, Beda Dkhar and others.
There was also a coal quarry run by ten owners. One Narayan was Sordar (manager) of some of these coal mine owners who were carrying out illegal mining in violation of the NGT order.
Another manager used a red Maruti car whose registration number is ML05 F9866.
There were many coal mines where machines with generator are used to extract coal and also to take the miners 400-500 ft down depending on the availability of coal flouting the Tribunal order.
The series of NGT orders only allowed transportation of already extracted coal in 2014 and not coal from fresh mining.
All coal depots in East Jaintia Hills district from Lad Rymbai onwards were almost empty and freshly dug-up coal was being brought into some depots, especially in Lad Sutnga and Soo Kilo areas, from many forest areas falling under Sutnga Elaka and Nongkhlieh Elaka.
The coal miners were mostly from Barpeta, Kallain, Silchar, Karimganj, Badapur, and Karbi Anglong areas of Assam and some from Nepal.
The workers, who do not have any work permits said they had come a week ago and some reached a few days ago. They are staying in the makeshift camps.
There are new areas being dug up for extraction of coal, and the coal miners, all from outside the State, said they reached up to 300 feet, but some more digging is required to spot the coal.
Some miners were seen digging right under the world famous caves like ‘Krem Shrieh and Krem Liatprah, which now may be in grave danger of collapsing. If the caves collapse this will taking many villages down as most of them are located above the caves.
According to villagers, they could hear blasts almost every night which shook the whole area.
The elders from Jaintia Cement area said there is scarcity of drinking water and the water bodies are contaminated.
In areas under Elaka Nongkhlieh, there is ‘Krem Labit’ (Cave Labit) starting from Nongrim village to Moolasngi village where it reaches ‘Krem Liatprah’ (Cave Liatprah) and in the middle is ‘Krem Shrieh’ (Cave Shrieh) in village Khaidong.
The contaminated water was being let off from the caves into the road and the authorities have not inspected the area.
Some villagers of Elaka Nongkhlieh informed that several residents of Elaka Sutnga had come to forcefully grab land in order to mine coal from the year 2011 in their areas.
The land grabbers bulldozed the areas leading to the quarries while they also destroyed the vegetation and means of livelihood of the villagers in Elaka Nongkhlieh and even threatened some owners.
During the spot visit, it was observed that there were some police personnel standing on the roadside further in at Lad Sutnga and collecting money from the trucks plying through.
Bad road condition
The condition of the road from Sutnga to Saipung was deplorable causing inconvenience and danger to many commuters from Elaka Sutnga, Elaka Nongkhlieh and Saipung Village.
It was informed that there were women who delivered their babies in vehicles as the car could not speed up on such a bad road to take them to Khliehriat CHC and that an injured person had earlier died as he could not taken to the hospital in time.
Even the C&RD Block office in Saipung was shifted to Latyrke village.
CSWO president Agnes Kharshiing urged the authorities concerned and the legislator of the constituency of Sutnga (Nongkhlieh Elaka falls under Sutnga constituency) to immediately take steps to make good roads, protect the caves and take action against the people who violate NGT orders.
The CSWO also wanted action against officials who had not informed about the fresh extraction of coal and carrying of fresh coal from the forest.
“Action should also be taken against those who have neglected their duties in providing services of good roads, drinkable water to the residents of most of the villages under Elaka Nongkhlieh and adjoining areas,” Kharshiing said.