Rats and dons

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/2/2019 11:59:13 AM IST

 There seems to be no hope at the end of the tunnel for the 15 labourers trapped in a coal mine in Meghalaya since December 13,2018 as search and rescue operations continue a hopeless effort to locate the missing persons or their bodies. The tragedy continues to be played out in the media since the search and rescue mission in a flooded coal mine have been marred by lack of effective equipment and delays. The miners have been trapped in the illegal rat-hole mine in East Jaintia Hills district since December 13 after water from a nearby river flooded it. The mine is filled with 70 feet of water, making it inaccessible to the rescue workers. The kind of preparedness has been more than highlighted by the amateurish attempt to reach the bottom or the tunnel and the abandonment of the efforts due to lack of proper equipments. The wait for heavy duty water pumps from other parts of India to remove water from the tunnel also revealed that the management of the crisis was a disaster. It took the police hours to locate the mine as the villagers feigned ignorance about the accident. They were afraid that mine owners might cause them harm. Some who consider mining to be their only means of livelihood fear police action may add to their woes,” he said. Rat-hole mining of coal – a technique that entails digging small vertical pits to reach the mineral and carving narrow sideways tunnels to move it underground – was banned in Meghalaya in 2014 by the National Green Tribunal as it did not follow regulations. However, activists allege coal continues to be mined illegally and this incident appears to be proof of that. The issue of illegal coal mining especially -rat-hole mining-had been raised by rights activist Agnes Kharshiing about a month ago. She exposed the illegal activity in the media and inflamed the operators. It wasn’t long before the coal mining mafia in East Jaintia Hills district, set their goons who brutally attacked Agnes Kharshiing and her companion. Kharshiing had reportedly captured photographs of illegal rat-hole mining in the district and was stopped by miscreants on their way back. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed “rat-holes”, as each just about fits one person. Water from rivers and streams in the mining area has become unfit for drinking and irrigation, and is toxic to plants and animals. A study by the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, says the Kopili river has turned acidic due to the discharge of acidic water from mines and the leaching of heavy metals. Coal mining is one of the most lucrative trades in Meghalaya and offered unlimited opportunities to make money. Coal has transformed the people’s economy in Jaintia district where most of them are dependent on the trade for livelihood. Rat-hole mining is a primitive and hazardous method of mining for coal, with tunnels that are only 3-4 feet in diameter (hence, rat-hole), leading to pits ranging from 5-100 sq. mt deep. The ban by the NGT has been challenged by the NPP coalition government , backed by the BJP. The NPP government then permitted mining till January 31, 2019.What the issue also reveals, is that elected members and political parties are themselves deeply involved in coal mining trade and for which lives of poor and marginalised are of no concern. 

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