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Banned 10 years ago, 26,000 rat-hole coal mines not closed yet: Meghalaya HC panel

The rat-hole mining and transportation of coal in the Himalayan state were banned 10 years ago by the National Green Tribunal.
Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 16:03 IST
Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 16:03 IST

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Shillong: Not one of the 26,000 abandoned rat-hole coal mines in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district has so far been closed despite an order, posing risk of loss of human lives as well as livestock, the Meghalaya High Court was informed.

The rat-hole mining and transportation of coal in the Himalayan state were banned 10 years ago by the National Green Tribunal.

Over 14 lakh metric tons of already mined coal is left to be transported, a one-man committee formed by the high court to monitor the mining and transportation of coal said in its 22nd interim report on Tuesday.

"Not a single abandoned mine so far has been closed as the process of closure is still in the initial stage, i.e. the preparation of Detail Project Report (DPR) by the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDI)."

"It is on record that in East Jaintia Hills District alone, there are about 26,000 rat-hole mine openings which need to be closed down because of the ban on the rat-hole coal mining, to avoid the risk of loss of human lives as well as of that of livestock", the report read.

The number of rat hole mines from other districts - West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and South Garo Hills - where coal mining is rampant has not been taken into consideration, it said.

Till the mines are closed, the openings may be fenced so that nobody can go near the pits, the report added.

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.

The panel said that the project for the closure of abandoned mines needs to be implemented quickly and the Mining and Geology Department should take urgent steps for preparation of DPR for that purpose.

The committee headed by former judge B K Katakey also stated that though about Rs 400 crore is available under the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF), there is no progress in implementing the restoration work to undo the damages caused by coal mining activities.

"No progress appears to have been made in taking steps for restoration of the environmental damage caused by coal mining activities except sanction of a few projects out of the MEPRF, which are also yet to be audited", the report stated.

It added that the people affected by coal mining are still suffering because of the continued Acid Mine Drainage (outflow of acidic water) from the mine pits which have so far not been closed.

The Meghalaya Police have said that 402 cases were registered in various districts for illegal transportation of coal while there are 83 cases for illegal extraction of coal between July 2019 and February 2024.

"Out of the 402 illegal transportation cases, investigations into 65 cases are still pending and out of 83 cases of illegal extraction of coal, investigations into 50 cases are still pending", the police said.

The Katakey committee was not apprised of the reasons for the pendency of investigations.

The panel directed the Meghalaya Police to report within a fortnight stating the reasons for pendency of investigations and also the outcome of the trial of the cases.

The National Green Tribunal issued a blanket ban on transportation and unscientific mining of coal in Meghalaya in 2014. The Supreme Court has upheld the ban and allowed transportation of assessed and inventories of about 32 lakh MT of coal dumps while the high court is monitoring the activities.

A number of people died in accidents while working in these illegal mines in the past 10 years.

According to government reports, the coal mining industry was among the biggest revenue earners for the state, generating about Rs 700 crore annually, prior to its ban in 2014.

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Published 08 May 2024, 16:03 IST

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