Shillong, May 14: Coal miners in Meghalaya have called a dawn-to-dusk “shutdown” on Saturday to express “utter disappointment” over the Dimasa body’s petition that led to the decision of the National Green Tribunal’s interim order banning rat-hole coal mining and transportation of the mineral in the state.
The Jaintia Coal Miners’ and Dealers’ Association (JCMDA) president, Balious Swer, announced the shutdown to the media. The shutdown will begin at 6am.
“Different associations held a meeting today in the state capital and also in Khiah West in East Jaintia Hills wherein a decision was taken to call the shutdown,” Swer said. He made it clear that the coal miners were not opposed to the tribunal order.
“We are not opposing or challenging the interim order passed by the NGT. We are disappointed with the application filed by the All Dimasa Students’ Union,” he said while soliciting the support of pressure groups and citizens.
While stating that the coal miners are not trying to create any law and order problem, he said educational institutions, government establishments and religious programmes would be exempted from the shutdown. Business establishments and movement of vehicles will be impacted.
“We understand the concerns of the NGT, but our appeal is to allow us to take remedial measures in our mining practice so that while protecting the environment we must also ensure the economy of the state is not hampered,” Swer stressed.
Following the April 17 interim order, deputy commissioners in the districts of Khasi hills, Jaintia hills and Garo hills have issued instructions on different dates banning rat-hole mining and transportation of coal.
The shutdown will take place two days before the tribunal meets again on Monday in New Delhi to take up the issue.
The tribunal had acted on an application filed by the All Dimasa Students’ Union (ADSU) and Dima Hasao District Committee (DHDC) from Assam before it on April 2.
The All Dimasa Students’ Union had contended that illegal rat-hole mining in the Jaintia hills was polluting the Kopili river by turning its water acidic.
Two survey reports of 2006 and 2010, where pH levels of the Kopili show big differences, were also placed before the tribunal.
A good pH level for drinking water should be between 6 and 8.5. If the pH level is lower than this, the water will be acidic and can be corrosive.
Meghalaya director-general of police Peter James Pyngrope Hanaman informed journalists that the interim order has been “positively” taken by a majority of the people in the state.
“We have started implementing the order in letter and spirit as there is no other option but to comply with it,” Hanaman said at the police headquarters.
Pending receipt of the order, the police had issued a directive to district superintendents of police on April 25 asking them to prepare an action plan and other logistics, which would be required for the implementation of the interim order.
On May 9, clear-cut instructions were given to the superintendents of police to implement the interim order in its totality.
To a query, Hanaman said if transportation of the mineral stops, it would mean that the production of coal has also come to a halt. Empty trucks coming from Assam to Meghalaya for coal transportation have already been stopped, he said.
The state police chief said he would file a compliance report to the order tomorrow.
He said while Section 144 CrPC has been imposed, those who violate the interim order would be booked under Section 188 IPC.
Ruling out the presence of “coal mafias” in Meghalaya, the DGP, however, did not discount the premise that some police officials may be involved in the lucrative coal trade.
“I do not think there are coal mafias, but there are big players (big businessmen) no doubt,” Hanaman said.
Coal mining is extensive in areas of South Garo Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, West Jaintia Hills and East Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.