Express News Service

GUWAHATI: The Centre has granted mining licences for three coal blocks in Meghalaya but the decision has left some activists in the state fuming. 

They are wondering how the Coal Ministry could grant the mining licenses when a ban on rat-hole coal mining, enforced by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014, is still in force.

The state’s Chief Secretary MS Rao did not reply when asked if the mining licenses contravened the NGT ban. 

While seeking permission for the resumption of coal mining, the state government had written to the Centre that it would ensure scientific mining. But the activists pointed out that Meghalaya is known for the dangerous rat-hole coal mining.

Rajya Sabha member WR Kharlukhi, who is also the state president of National People’s Party that heads the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance, had said on Sunday, “We are happy that we have kept our election promise about restarting coal mining.”

The Coal Ministry reportedly granted the mining licences for three coal blocks last week. According to the plan, the mining operations will start next year.

Agnes Kharshiing, who has for long been fighting against illegal coal mining, said the coal, extracted ahead of the NGT ban, has already exhausted after being transported legally and illegally.

“The existing coal is all fresh coal. So, where are the coal blocks?” she asked.

“If indeed mining is going to resume, it will be for political gains. It is cheating the illiterate and helping the mafia. There is no feasible blueprint for feasible coal mining in Meghalaya. It will only be rat-hole mining. This is illegal and promote illegal trades in the coal belt,” Kharshiing said.

The Shillong-based activist had survived an attack from the miscreants in 2018 during a visit to an illegal coal mining site in East Jaintia Hills. 

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Fellow activist Angela Rongad said she was trying to figure out what exactly the government was going to do.

“We don’t have the documents but there have been instances when the government tried to confuse people through deliberate misinformation,” Rongad said. 

“The rain is soon going to stop and winter is when they try to rush to mines. Mining is done from November to April,” she added.

Illegal rat-hole coal mining is allegedly rampant in the state despite the ban by the NGT. There have been a series of accidents in the coal mines of Meghalaya. In December 2018, at least 17 labourers were killed when a coal mine got flooded. 

Daily wage, which could be as high as Rs 2,000, draw a section of the poor from the Northeast to the Meghalaya mines. Some of the coal mines are owned by politicians.