| People at Polo ground, Shillong on Friday for the Independence Day function. Picture by UB Photos |
Shillong, Aug. 16: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya dominated the Independence Day speech of chief minister Mukul Sangma yesterday. He also appealed to “misguided youths” to come overground.
Along with the rest of the country, Meghalaya celebrated the nation’s 68th Independence Day across the state. In various parts of Meghalaya, incessant rainfall, which caused flash floods in a few places in the state capital, was a highlight of the celebrations.
In his speech delivered at Polo ground, where rain played a major spoilsport, and amid a shutdown called by the proscribed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Sangma spoke at length on the NGT ban on rat-hole coal mining.
“The state government has been actively engaged in dealing with the fallout of the ban on rat-hole coal mining in the state and coal transportation thereof by the NGT. The livelihood of thousands of people directly or indirectly involved in coal mining activities has been affected,” Sangma said.
According to him, the indigenous landowners of the state have been carrying on coal mining activities according to the customary rights and practices of the tribal people.
Making a mention of the Meghalaya Mines and Mineral Policy, 2012, he said in view of the implementation of the policy, certain provisions of central laws such as Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957, the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) 1973 and others had “come in the way”.
“In view of these, the state government has taken up this issue to protect the interests of our indigenous people with the then Prime Minister in May 2014 and again with the present one in July 2014 for invoking paragraph 12 A (b) of the Sixth Schedule so that application of the central laws relating to mining may be rescinded through a presidential notification,” he said.
He firmly believed that this was the only way to restore the customary rights and practices of the indigenous people in relation to coal mining, which have been taken away by the central laws.
The Meghalaya government, he said, would take on board other state governments of the Northeast in taking up the issue concertedly with the Centre so that the provision of paragraph 12 A (b) be upheld in “letter and spirit”.
“We reassure the people that all necessary measures will be taken to protect the interests of our indigenous people and create a right format to enable our people realise the benefit of our natural resources while taking stringent measures to protect and preserve the environment,” Sangma said.
Moreover, he said necessary measures to comply with the tribunal’s directives have been taken by the state government to enable lifting of the ban on both transportation of the extracted coal, and mining rights of coal in the state can be achieved.
While enlisting the various policies, programmes and schemes of his government, the chief minister appreciated the role of civil society for engaging with the government in structuring an appropriate and a comprehensive mechanism. This is expected to be “much more effective than the inner-line permit system under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873”.
Keeping in mind the volatile law and order scenario in the state, particularly in the Garo Hills region, Sangma appealed to the “misguided youths” who are waging war against the nation and “our own people” to realise the futility of violence.
He also urged the youths to take advantage of the government’s offer to come overground and avail of the rehabilitation package, which includes counselling, handholding and sustainable livelihood.
“I also urge all responsible citizens, leaders, civil society activists, and religious activists to join me in reaching out to our misguided youths and facilitate them in joining the mainstream,” he added.
Meghalaya Speaker Abu Taher Mondal unfurled the Tricolour at Tura in West Garo Hills, taking the salute from a contingent comprising the state police, NCC and Scouts and Guides.
People came out in large numbers defying the militant diktat to boycott the celebrations. At least 6,000 people had gathered at MP Stadium here to take part in the celebrations. “The crucial issue of security in Garo hills has remained a cause of concern for the government,” Mondal said, appealing to the people to provide support to the government in tackling insurgency in the region.
Social welfare minister Deborah Marak unfurled the Tricolour at Ampati in South West Garo Hills.