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Garo hills’ coal miners protest tribunal ban

- Rongara MLA Rophul S. Marak attends rally; similar meeting in West Jaintia Hills

Tura, July 18: Coal miners in the Garo hills today sent out a clear message to the Meghalaya government to revoke the ban on mining.

At least 4,500 people gathered at Pathargittim in Nangalbibra in South Garo Hills to register their protest against the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its order on April 17.

The rally, held under the aegis of State Coordination Committee of Coal Mine Owners and Dealers Forum (SCCCMODF) was attended by Independent legislator from Rongara constituency, Rophul S. Marak.

He is the first legislator in the ruling Congress-led government who has raised his voice against the ban. “We have to work together to find a solution to the problem. The blame-game is leading us nowhere. The government is one of the respondents to the NGT and is seeking time to ensure that the mining policy is worked out to meet the standards demanded,” Marak told the gathering.

Highlighting the steps taken by the coal miners and dealers’ forum, Sonny Khyriem, president of SCCOMODF, said: “In 1996, the Supreme Court had put a blanket ban on the cutting of timber, which was not opposed. This time, it is coal. We cannot sit and wait for judgment to be passed. We are going to oppose this tooth and nail.” He wondered why a motion to discuss the NGT ban was not taken up in the Meghalaya Assembly, when Shillong MP Vincent Pala could raise the issue in Parliament.

Speaker Abu Taher Mondal had said the motion on NGT was sub-judice. The next hearing of the NGT is due on August 1.

Speaking at the rally, coal miner Georgemon S. Marak said, “Where are our legislators? In Khasi-Jaintia hills, all MLAs and members of district council have united to raise their dissent against the ban. Is it not the responsibility of our representatives to fight for the rights of the people?”

Member of district council from Williamnagar constituency, Denang T. Sangma, admitted that there has been no discussion on the mining ban. “I am from the opposition, but I am going to fight for the revocation of the ban, which has left lakhs of people without jobs,” Sangma said.

Former member of district council, Mahamsingh Sangma, “I have been told by a very reliable source that a big corporation from Hyderabad is being invited to set up its unit in Meghalaya for the extraction of coal.”

A similar meeting was also held at Phra Mer in West Jaintia Hills district, around 75km from Shillong, today.

Organised by the Movement for Indigenous People’s Rights and Livelihood (MIPRL), the meeting resolved to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after the ongoing session of Parliament concludes to apprise him of the fallout of the ban on coal mining by the NGT.

Most of the speakers at the meeting, which was attended by thousands of coal mine owners, mine labourers, truckers and those who are dependent on coal mining, opined that they would wait for the NGT hearing to be held in Shillong before deciding on their next course of action.

In an order published today, the tribunal said NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee would be attending the sitting in Shillong on August 1 and 2.

Among others, the tribunal will conduct a hearing on the threat to life arising out of coal mining in South Garo Hills and other cases, which would be listed.

However, there were others at the meeting who suggested holding of a “peace rally” in the state capital.

At the same time, voices of concern were raised on the NGT ruling. It would consider the matter in relation to issuance of notice to all the mine owners as to why they should not be called upon to pay compensation for restoration of environment, health and ecology.


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