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Meghalaya gets mining guidelines

- Government silent on rat-holes, does away with common test

Shillong, Oct. 5: Repercussion fears made the government leave the traditional and unscientific “rat-hole” method untouched while approving the Meghalaya Mines and Mineral Policy, 2012, which envisages modern and scientific mining.

The policy contains 25 paragraphs where provisions have been made to ensure stringent safety measures for miners and protection of the environment through implementation of scientific approaches.

“At the moment, if there are suggestions to do away with rat-hole mining in the state, there will be a war between the stakeholders, miners and others as they (miners) are not in a position to resort to other methods of mining,” deputy chief minister Bindo M. Lanong, who also holds the mining and geology portfolio, said.

He was speaking to reporters after the Mukul Sangma cabinet approved the much-awaited policy today.

Meghalaya is infamous for the primitive and unscientific rat-hole mining of coal, where a “mine” is basically a narrow pit dug in the ground to reach the coal seams. The miners work at great risk as they slither in and out of these narrow tunnels, digging for coal with basic tools.

The government has no mechanism to regulate this form of mining as it is done on a very small scale and in an unorganised manner.

According to Lanong, even the Centre refrained from interfering with the practice of rat hole mining. “We have also received the assurance (that the Centre will not interfere with rat-hole mining) in writing,” he said.

He said the traditional method would continue as long as the government did not initiate mechanised mining.

Lanong, however, said the government would not turn a blind eye to the safety of miners, protection of the environment and safeguards to the interests of local people.

He said a mineral advisory committee comprising experts would be constituted to oversee the process of providing healthcare, education, safe drinking water and other benefits to the miners and those living in and around the mines.

In the face of widespread allegations that children were being engaged as labourers in the mining areas, Lanong said the policy had envisaged provisions to prevent child labour.

The policy has also provided room for investment in mining — one of the most lucrative sectors in Meghalaya.

It has also incorporated clauses to safeguard the numerous caves that are found in abundance in the state’s mining belt.

The deputy chief minister declared that from now on, all those who engaged in mining, whether coal or limestone, will have to comply with the provisions laid down in the policy.

“With the introduction of this policy, we hope that the government will have its say on the entire gamut of mining in the state. The policy will also bring smiles on the faces of stakeholders as well as those involved in the protection of the environment. This policy will provide a new ray of hope. I think it will be welcomed by all,” Lanong said.