The Telegraph
Friday , February 14 , 2014
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Confusion over legality of coal mining in South Garo hills

NDRF personnel on a search mission in a coal mine in South Garo Hills. File picture

Shillong, Feb. 13: An ambiguity over the legality of coal business is resulting in operation of coal mining, storage and transportation in an “uncontrolled, unregulated and unscientific manner”, a report on coal mining in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district has pointed out.

South Garo Hills deputy commissioner Chinmay P. Gotmare recently sent the report to the state government. Although the report is specific to South Garo Hills, the phenomenon is similar in other coal mining areas of the state.

In the report, it has been pointed out that the district has many coal-producing areas such as Chokpot, Nongalbibra and Jadi. Out of these, Nongalbibra and Jadi have major reservoirs of “black diamond”.

While the indigenous people in the area traditionally practise coal mining, the legality of coal mining is shrouded in ambiguity, the report added.

“In general, coal mining is regulated as per the provisions of the Mines Act, 1952, which is enforceable in the entire country. Similarly, the provisions of the Mines and Mineral (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957 and other mining-related acts and regulations are enforceable in Meghalaya,” the report stated.

It, however, pointed out that the argument provided by mine owners and others who are engaged in coal mining business is that the laws are not applicable to Meghalaya, being a Sixth Schedule area.

“This argument does not have any legal sanctity. This ambiguity about the legality of coal business is resulting in the operation of coal mining, storage and transportation being carried out in an uncontrolled, unregulated and unscientific manner. The livelihood of many mine owners, labourers, traders and others related to coal trade depends on these activities,” the report said.

It pointed out that because of the confusion about the legality of coal mining, the trade is going on without proper registration and regulation. Lack of enforcement agencies, which could otherwise ensure safety and security of the operations, is felt acutely when accidents occur in coal mines.

The coal mining areas in South Garo Hills have witnessed several accidents in coal mines, leading to deaths of miners.

The incident of July 2012 when 15 miners were reported to have been trapped in a coal mine in the district is pending before the National Green Tribunal.

In order to keep a check on mining activities in South Garo Hills during the monsoon, the deputy commissioner had, in May 2013, banned coal mining under Section 133 CrPC. Gotmare had banned mining during monsoon citing concerns about flooding and caving in of mines, which could lead to injury or death of miners.

However, a clamour was raised against the ban. The Nongalbibra Joint Action Committee, which was later constituted, adopted certain resolutions to ensure safe coal mining.

The committee held a public meeting and decided to divide the coal mining areas in and around Nongalbibra into six sub-areas, appoint “mining supervisors” who would inspect safety measures in the mines and regularly check the machinery, submit inspection reports, stop mining operations in all abandoned coal mines and take steps to register coal mine labourers.

Names of mining/labour supervisors were also submitted to police for character verification. Another resolution, which was adopted, pertained to compensating labourers who die or sustain injuries while working in mines. The compensation package is Rs 1 lakh in case of death and Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 in case of an injury.

Following the resolutions adopted by the committee along with stipulation of other dos and don’ts, the deputy commissioner revoked the ban order in October last year.

However, sources today said that the ban order could be put in place again — once the monsoon period sets in this year — to prevent any loss of life.