Meghalaya cautious on mining policy

SHILLONG: At a time when the country is in the midst of a major controversy regarding allocation of coal blocks, there is a virtual loot of the 'black diamond' in coal-rich Meghalaya, given the fact that the state is yet to have a mining policy in place.

Charged by the Opposition of failure to control unregulated coal mining, deputy chief minister B M Lanong, who is in charge of mining said the government did not intend to disturb the "customary rights" of the people even as he maintains that the new mining policy, which is still being drafted, would try to strike a balance.

"The Government of India has also said it does not wish to disturb the customary rights of the tribal people who have been practicing traditional mining since decades. The state government also does not wish to interfere. Once we interfere, many questions will come up," Lanong told the assembly. He had pointed out that the issue was "sensitive" and the government needed to "tread cautiously".

In tribal-dominated Meghalaya, private land owners carry out small-scale mining activities in their land as part of traditional practice without any mining lease from the government. In fact coal and limestone mining has been helping the local economy to quite an extent though there is much scope for improvement in this sector. It's an irony that though the land is rich (in minerals, flora and fauna), its people are not.

Meghalaya has large deposits of coal, limestone and even uranium, which if judiciously exploited could uplift the condition of the poverty-stricken people. "The benefits have not percolated down to the ground-level," a former legislator said, adding, "It is not regenerating the rural economy, which is in shambles."

Unscientific "rat-hole" mining of coal in the Jaintia Hills has not only damaged the ecology but also has failed to uplift the economic condition of the local people. "It is the rich coal merchants who have benefited while those who toil in the mines under life-threatening conditions continue to live in abject poverty," said an NGO activist.