Tura, July 17: The ban on coal mining in Meghalaya imposed by the National Green Tribunal has hit small traders hard.
“I was running a small tea shop at Nangalbibra for five years. The ban on coal mining and the militancy has forced me to flee the place”, said Rofiqul Islam of Mancachar in Assam’s Dhubri district. He is now selling fish door-to-door here.
He said, “At Nangalbibra, I use to save Rs 20,000 a month. Now, I can hardly earn a profit of Rs 250 a day. I travel every day from Mancachar with a bucket of different varieties of fish.”
The green tribunal imposed the ban on April 17.
Like Islam, there are many from Assam’s Goalpara and Dhubri districts who lived and worked in the coal mines and plied other trades in South Garo Hills.
Three months after the ban on coal mining, Nangalbibra is deserted.
“The market would be abuzz with people. After the ban, all labourers, truck drivers and traders have left,” said Nikcheng Sangma, a schoolteacher at Nangalbibra.
The tea stalls and rice shops, which were dependent on people engaged in coal trade, have almost all closed down.
“There are hardly people to drink tea and have lunch and dinner,” said Nimre Marak, a rice shop owner. “People have fled from the area. It is a ghost town now,” she added.
“Many have become jobless. We are all in a limbo, waiting to see whether the coal trade will be made operational or not,” said Chiang D. Shira, a coal exporter.
Moreover, the two most happening coal trade centres at Nangalbibra and Jadi have no security whatsoever and costly equipment is being stolen from the mining sites.
Zinba N. Sangma, a mine owner, said, “The ban has left almost everyone crippled and the theft of property is driving us nuts. Equipment meant for the mines is being stolen and sold by unscrupulous thieves. We are getting hit both ways”.
Georgemon Marak, another mine owner, said, “There are too many affected by the ban and we have to keep fighting for the right to earn a living. Hopefully, the government will work out the modalities and ensure we can restart the whole thing, keeping the environment in mind. The government has failed to provide any alternatives for many who are left without a source of income.”
A medicine store owner at Jadi, Silrang N. Marak said, “We have no customers and are literally bankrupt.”
Many others who had taken loans to buy cars are now having to sell these.
“Everyone is worried. We are hoping against hope that the mines will once again become operational,” said Sirgan Sangma, a resident of Nangalbibra.
The lack of employment options in the coal rich belt is also being attributed to the increase in crime.
On June 23, Lok Sabha MP from Shillong Vincent Pala sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention for a rehabilitation package for the people who have been affected by the ban.
“The Centre must immediately step in to roll out an alternative rehabilitation scheme for the owners, workers, dependants and cement factories so that they are saved from these mindless orders,” Pala wrote to Modi.
Tribunal imposes ban on coal mining in Meghalaya on April 17
Ban imposed after complaints by All Dimasa Students Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee
Local residents claim the mines were small-scale ones, beyond the purview of Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act
At least 2 lakh migrant labourers, truck drivers and traders affected
for revoke of ban
Chief minister Mukul Sangma says government evolving strategy to address problem
Ban increases demand for coal from Nagaland
lBan affects cement
factories, thermal plants in northeastern states