Q. Over the years, indiscriminate rathole mining of coal in Meghalaya, has taken a toll on its ecology and put many lives at risk. While some associate it with a lot of risks; others find it as a necessary evil. Discuss.
What is Rat Hole mining
Issues And Associated Risks:
1) Ecological Issues
2) Social issues
3) Health issues
5) Political Issues
Why Is It A Necessary Evil And Is Still Prevalent In Meghalaya?
➢ The question has been asked in the context of people trapped in a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya
➢ The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned rat-hole mining in 2014 on grounds of the practice being unscientific and unsafe for workers but The State Government has failed to check illegal mining effectively.
WHAT IS RAT HOLE MINING?
➢ Rathole mining involves digging of very small tunnels for the extraction of coal. It is called a rat hole because of the small height of the dug tunnel.
➢ Rat-Hole mining is broad of two types –
Side-cutting: narrow tunnels are dug on the hill slopes.
Box-cutting: a rectangular opening is made, varying from 10 to 100 sq.
➢ The coal is taken out manually dumped on a nearby un-mined area.
ISSUES AND ASSOCIATED RISKS:
➢ Meghalaya coal has high sulphur content, leading to discharge of sulphuric acid from these mines which made the rivers acidic, iron and toxic heavy metals, low dissolved oxygen (DO) and high BOD, showing its degraded quality in turn affecting aquatic life and corroding machinery at hydroelectric projects and dams
➢ Lack of safety norms has led to respiratory problems for the miners.
➢ The topsoils of the region have undergone degeneration.
➢ Roadside dumping of coal is a major source of air, water, and soil pollution.
➢ The mines are at constant risk of caving in or flooding.
➢ Ecologically Sensitive Zones are being degraded
➢ During the rainy season, water floods into the mining areas resulting in the death of many employees/workers. ➢ Rat-hole mines have encouraged child trafficking as well.
➢ No social security for migrants workers.
➢ Due to poisonous gases like Hydrogen Sulphide, Methane can cause instant death of miners.
➢ The State Government has failed to check illegal mining effectively.
➢ Meghalaya Mines and Mineral Policy, 2012 policy does not address rat-hole mining & states: “Small and traditional system of mining by local people in their own land shall not be unnecessarily disturbed.”
➢ Meghalaya is a Sixth Schedule state, and the power to make laws with respect to the land belongs to the Autonomous District Councils, landowners can mine without any permission from the state or the Union governments.
POLITICAL ISSUES :
➢ About 33% of political candidates have stakes in coal mining and transport companies, thus lobbying against the ban order.
WHY IS IT A NECESSARY EVIL AND IS STILL PREVALENT IN MEGHALAYA?
➢ Meghalaya has a total coal reserve of 640 million tonnes; Since the coal seam is extremely thin in Meghalaya, no other method would be economically viable.
➢ Low capital investment, low maintenance, and operational costs.
➢ Direct and indirect bases of livelihoods
➢ 2012 policy is inadequate as it does not address rat-hole mining.
➢ Biggest revenue earners for the state.
➢ Conflict of interest for various stakeholders
➢ For the resettlement process and package for protection of livelihood security NGT is silent at present.
➢ The government of Meghalaya controls only 5% of land rest either community or privately owned which undermines effective regulations
➢ Lack of Alternate Sources of Livelihood
➢ The need for framing new mining policy which allows scientific mining along with stringent regulations
➢ Effective implementation of 6th schedule provisions
➢ Diversifying livelihood opportunities
➢ Strict implementation of Child labor prevention laws
➢ Implementation of NGT order
➢ Use of Satellite imagery to find the locations of illegal mines.
➢ Involvement of Social Activists, NGO’s and Local community
➢ Educating people about issues of rathole mining.
➢ Mining has been an age-old practice in the State of Meghalaya and thousands of people earn their livelihood through this activity.
➢ Strict enforcement of the modified policy eventually should provide scope for the mining of minerals in a scientific and sustainable manner taking into account the interest of the state and its people.