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Coal market deserted

Bongaigaon, Aug. 23: Jogighopa, the only coal market in Bongaigaon district, wears a deserted look following the National Green Tribunalís ban on coal mining in Meghalaya.

According to local coal traders, around six lakh people of Bongaigaon district are associated directly or indirectly with Jogighopa coal market for their livelihood.

Around 300 coal depots, 2,000 traders, 300 brokers, 11,600 labourers, 7,000 trucks and 700 shops have been depending on the Jogighopa coal market, local traders said.

The green tribunal had on April 17 put an interim ban on rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya after the All Dimasa Studentsí Union and Dima Hasao District Committee filed a petition before it, stating that the acidic discharge from the coal mines of Meghalaya was polluting the Kopili river in Assam. On August 2, the tribunal upheld its interim order.

The scene at Jogighopa coal market today is one of closed shops, markets and other commercial establishments and stranded trucks.

Ranjan Sah, who is originally from Motihari district in Bihar and runs a paan (betel leaf) shop in Jogighopa coal market for last 14 years, said he used to sell 400 paans daily when the market was on and now he can hardly sell 30 paans daily.

Sah has already shifted his family to Bihar because of sudden financial crisis arising because of closure of the coal market.

Around 200 barbers have already left Jogighopa facing hardships in earning, said the local shopkeeper.

Local traders, truck owners, labour unions and the people of Jogighopa area jointly formed a committee on August 7 to fight against the ban and to restore the coal market.

President of the committee Mofidul Islam said because of closure of the coal market at Jogighopa, the state government has been losing sales tax of nearly Rs 3 crore every month.

ďToday we had a meeting with our Meghalaya counterparts at Natun Bazar in Goalpara and have decided to move unitedly against the ban after our next meeting,Ē Islam said.

The branches of Assam Gramin Vikash Bank, United Bank of India, State Bank of India, IndusInd bank and ICICI bank at Jogighopa have been affected by the suspension of coal trade, branch managers said.

Around 1,000 trucks carry goods from other states to the western part of Assam daily according to Bongaigaon based trader Sajjan Sarma.

However the NGT had endorsed afresh its ban on coal mining in Meghalaya on August 1, stating that right to life was far more significant than economic interest and the latter cannot be allowed to gain preference, coal traders of Goalpara said.

The tribunal will conduct its next hearing on October 7 and 8 in Shillong, the coal miners of Meghalaya said.