Meghalaya to resume coal mining despite green concerns

Lease granted for three blocks in East Jaintia Hills prompting disquiet among activists

Activists in Meghalaya have voiced concern over granting of mining leases for three coal blocks after a statement from the leaseholders thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allowing resumption of coal extraction.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had in April 2014 banned rat-hole coal mining that was deemed hazardous to people and the environment. Since transportation of extracted coal was allowed, mining continued illegally in remote areas often leading to fatal accidents. Fifteen miners were killed when water flooded the coal tunnels in 2018 and six were killed in January this year after they fell into a tunnel.

SC sanction

However, Meghalaya officials point out that the Supreme Court had in July 2019 lifted the NGT ban. The apex court said in its order that in Meghalaya, the local tribal people are the owners of their land and also the minerals beneath.

The SC had said that if coal mining is done under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and the Mineral Concession Rules 1960, the ban imposed by the NGT will not be applicable.

Indicating the resumption of mining, Labour Lyngdoh and Dapmain Shylla, two residents of the State’s East Jaintia Hills district had on September 24 issued a statement thanking the Prime Minister and Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma for rekindling hopes across Meghalaya’s coal belt.

They said the Union Coal Ministry had granted leases for three coal blocks between them. The two are associates of coal barons Nehlang Lyngdoh and Thomas Nongtdu.

“The works for preparation of the mining plan will start as soon as possible and we hope by the early part of 2022 or by March 2022 mines opening should take place and coal production will once again start from Jaintia Hills in these three blocks,” the duo said in the statement.

They heaped praise on Mr Sangma for “working very hard in lifting the NGT ban” on coal mining, which they said displaced and impoverished thousands of families.

On September 26, the State’s Rajya Sabha member and National People’s Party leader W.R. Kharlukhi said: “We are happy that we have kept our election promise to restart coal mining.”

‘Process unclear’

“We are not sure how the coal blocks have been leased since we don’t have the documents. The government can do anything for profit and it seems they are rushing to extract since the peak time for coal mining has been from November to April,” Shillong-based activist Angela Rangad said.

Anti-mining activist Agnes Kharshiing said: “Resumption of coal mining will be for political gains. There is no blueprint for feasible coal mining in Meghalaya. It will invariably be rat-hole mining, which is illegal and will lead to human trafficking, drug abuse and other illegalities in these areas again.”

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