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Meghalaya MP seeks legalisation of rat-hole coal mining

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Shillong, Nov 10 (PTI): Demanding legalisation of rat-hole mining of coal, Meghalaya’s Rajya Sabha MP WR Kharlukhi asked why would people dependent on it suffer because of ‘policy failure’.

Kharlukhi, the State president of the ruling NPP in Meghalaya, said he was aware of the negative impacts of rat-hole mining on the environment but there was a need to see what was more important – human lives or ‘other concerns’.

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“Why should my people suffer for the sake of failure of a policy somewhere?” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“There are times when we should see what is more valuable – human lives or other concerns. If you say that human life is not valuable, then okay. Or if you feel that we tribals are not valuable, then okay. But don’t keep our people hanging like this,” he added.

Rat-hole mining involves digging 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 National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned rat-hole mining of coal in 2014, terming it unscientific.

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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.

The NGT had cited the safety of miners as one of the reasons why it clamped down on coal mining in the state. Despite the ban, illegal mining has led to several accidents in the last few years.

Kharlukhi said the Centre has done nothing to start scientific mining. “They should show that they are interested at least.”

He said he will raise the issue in Parliament.

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“If the Government cannot do it (frame policy), then you will have to allow them to continue mining (using the rat-hole mining method),” he said.

“For 40 years, rat-hole mining was allowed and only now they realised that it is harmful. Did they not know that rat-hole mining was going on in Meghalaya? I see people are made to suffer for no fault of theirs,” he said.

The Government should do a study to assess whether open-cast mining is feasible in the State, the lawmaker suggested.

He claimed that the NPP-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance Government in the State, of which the BJP is a part, was trying its level best to get the ban lifted through legal means.

Amid criticism by the opposition, Kharlukhi said the people of the State will decide in next year’s election whether the steps taken by the MDA government to resolve the boundary dispute with Assam were right or wrong.

“We will go to the people in 2023. Let the people decide whether what we did was right or wrong as for 50 years nothing was done. We are trying our best,” he said.

In March, the Meghalaya Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Assam for resolving differences in six areas of dispute. The two States have already started another round of talks for resolving the remaining six areas of difference.

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