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Govt to appeal against ban

The entry point to a coal mine. File picture

Shillong, April 23: The Meghalaya government is planning to make a strong argument against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to put a stop to rat-hole mining in the state. The state government will also seek clarification from the tribunal to define “scientific” mining.

Official sources today revealed to The Telegraph that the government was mulling an appeal against the tribunal order in the next hearing scheduled for May 19.

However, Meghalaya chief secretary P.B.O. Warjri said the government was yet to decide on the issue. “The government will convene a meeting to decide what should be done,” he said.

But sources said the ongoing mining activities in the state were not rat-hole but shaft mining and such mining cannot be even termed “illegal”.

“Meghalaya comes under the Sixth Schedule, under which the land and minerals belong to the people. So, the question of illegal mining does not arise here unlike in other states, where if land belongs to an individual, the mineral underneath belongs to the government,” a source said.

In other states, if anyone extracts minerals without permission, it is illegal but here the landowner who owns the mineral does not require such permission, he added.

Sources, however, agreed that unregulated mining has to be checked, especially to ensure such activities do not destroy the environment.

“Pollution of environment, especially rivers, occurred because of indiscriminate dumping of coal taken out from pits. This issue has to be addressed to ensure that water from the dumping ground does not flow to rivers and paddy fields,” a source said.

The tribunal on April 17 ordered a stop on rat-hole mining across Meghalaya and observed that neither the government nor the people were benefiting from the “illegal mining” except “coal mafias” and warned against illegal transportation of the mineral.

“We are of the considered view that such illegal and unscientific method can never be allowed in the interest of maintaining ecological balance and safety of the employees. It is also brought to the notice of this tribunal that by such illegal mining, neither the government nor the people are benefited. It is only the coal mafias who are getting benefit by following this sort of illegal activities,” the tribunal observed.

Sources said the government would seek clarification from the tribunal to define “scientific” mining after it had termed mining in the state as “illegal and unscientific”.

A bench comprising Justice P. Jyothimani and Justice M.S. Nambiar and expert members G.K. Pandey, P.C. Mishra and Ranjan Chatterjee had passed the order.

The four-page order came on the basis of a petition on the issue of rat-hole mining in Meghalaya (original application no. 73/2014 and miscellaneous application no. 174/2014) filed by the All Dimasa Students’ Union and Dima Hasao District Committee.

The union had moved the tribunal on April 2 blaming “illegal rat-hole” mining in Jaintia hills for the pollution in the Kopili river, which made it acidic. The student organisation had placed two survey reports of 2006 and 2010 before the tribunal, in which the pH level of Kopili shows big differences.

On the other hand, Informed Conscious and Responsible Existence (ICARE) had termed the order a “refreshing dose of judicious governance” and expressed shock that the government was planning to appeal against the order.

“The form of rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya has caused a host of trouble for the state and its people. It has caused the death of many of our rivers. It has adversely affected traditional agriculture. Drinking water sources have dried up. Our environment and ecology has gone to the dogs. It is turning coal-mining areas into uninhabitable wastelands. As such, the ban on this type of unscientific and exploitative form of mining is most welcome,” ICARE president, Toki Blah, said.