Stop Illegal Mining Or Face Contempt Of Court: Green Court To Meghalaya

The committee headed by Justice B.P. Katakey also took stock of the rescue operations to evacuate the 15 miners who have been trapped inside an illegal flooded coal mine since December 13 at Ksan village in State’s East Jaintia Hills district.

A three-member committee of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday asked the Meghalaya government to either stop illegal coal mining in the state or face contempt of court.

The committee headed by Justice B.P. Katakey also took stock of the rescue operations to evacuate the 15 miners who have been trapped inside an illegal flooded coal mine since December 13 at Ksan village in State’s East Jaintia Hills district.

“They have given us a progress report about the rescue operations. We have strictly told them that unless you stop it, you will be hauled up for contempt of court,” Mr Katakey Read more

Interview | Agnes Kharshiing, the Woman Meghalaya’s Coal Mafia Tried to Silence

Shillong: On November 8, Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma were brutally attacked by a gang in the Sohshrieh area of Meghalaya’s East Jaintia hills. Kharshiing, a well-known activist, and her colleague Sangma were visiting to verify information they had received – that coal had been mined illegally and transported out of the area in large quantities, despite a state-wide ban on ‘rat-hole mining’.

Although the National Green Tribunal, which forced the ban, had allowed transportation of already-mined stocks, it is widely believed that not all coal leaving the mines was from old stock.

Local police rescued 55-year-old Kharshiing and Sangma from their attackers in a critical condition. Kharshiing spent more than a month in hospital in Shillong, before she was released on December 10.

Six people have been arrested for the attack so far. The main accused, Nidamon Chullet, working president of the East/West Jaintia Hills of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP), is reportedly in hiding. The state government ordered an independent enquiry into the incident, but Kharshiing and Sangma have doubts about the quality of the investigation. They have demanded a CBI inquiry instead.

The Wire spoke to the firebrand activist to learn what happened that day in Sohshrieh, in her own words.

What led you travel to Jaintia Hills on November 8?

Having been in this field for so long, I keep getting information – a lot of people regularly inform me about coal-laden trucks moving on the highway without papers, which is nothing but cheating the public and looting natural resources. It is a loss to the state, and the money from coal revenue is supposed to also fund the rehabilitation of the people affected by coal mining.

So that morning, we decided to verify the information we have been getting. Before starting from Shillong, I called a senior officer to inform him about the coal trucks and the need to seize them as they were ferrying coal without making any payment to the government. Just a day earlier, police confiscated many trucks with illegal coal on the highway to the Jainita Hills.

Did you find any proof that confirmed the information?

Yes, we found many waiting trucks loaded with coal. Before reaching Lad Rymbai, we saw police checking a number of trucks and three men were detained. Thereafter, we went to Kong Ong to check some trucks which police said had been stopped too. People looked at us suspiciously. I particularly remember a lady in a white vehicle. We took photos of those trucks and left.

We then paid a visit to the Lad Rymbai police outpost to inquire about whether they had made more arrests. While coming out of it, we spotted a Scorpio car which had just arrived. A man in the vehicle covered his face on seeing me. Some policemen were with him.

I waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of that man. But he did not come out. We left after some time and went to other nearby places. We spotted more coal-laden trucks on a road going into the countryside. It was then that Amita told me we were being watched. We went to another side-road and found more trucks parked. Again, we took photos. Then we realised that people were coming towards us.

We got into the vehicle and tried to drive out, but by then a person came to the car window and asked if we could ‘negotiate’ with them. A crowd surrounded us. The road leading to the highway was blocked with vehicles. It was at that point we realised that we would be attacked.

Did you recognise anyone in the crowd?

I distinctly recognised one of them, later identified as Hamlin Rymbai. He has been arrested. I remember seeing him before, when we had some run-ins in that district earlier over illegal coal truck seizures by police based on information provided by local people. Hamlin hit me first and then the blows rained on me. I passed out after some time. I was found by police with Amita Sangma’s help.

There has been a campaign to discredit you and your activism. Accusations are levelled against you for being insensitive to the woes of the poor people of the coal mining areas of Jaintia Hills who need a livelihood. They say your activism against coal-based livelihood is depriving people of daily bread.

The poor people never attack anyone. They have no reason to. They eke out a living, whether in the coal areas or in the other parts of the district, mainly from agriculture. Livelihood is not dependent only on coal. Land was traditionally apportioned to villagers to use for livelihood; whether it was agriculture, stone or limestone quarrying, all were at a cottage-industry level. People lived in sustainable harmony with nature.

Now it is different. It is the rich who are grabbing all the land. They are pressuring people to fall in line. Even in the case of the attack on me, it was not the common people who were out to kill us. We could see that the road was blocked by vehicles which meant it was the rich who were involved in the attack.

Even people like Hamlin or Nidamon Chullet are not the real instigators. They are just the dalals of the big powers behind it. They get paid per truck, which they share with the authorities. The real owners never show their faces. It is corporate greed. It is destroying our land and environment.

In the coal mining areas, people do not even have potable water anymore. Water is all poison, red and brown in colour. The rich can buy water from anywhere. But what will the poor do? So how can we say that the coal trade is for the benefit of the common people? The poor cannot speak up because they fear for their lives. If common people at all attacked me that day, it was because they were told to; they should think why they were asked to do such a thing.

Will you continue your work after facing such a brutal attack?

The attack has made me even more sure of what I am doing and why I should continue. My fight is for the poor people, for the survival of our people and the environment. If the government does its duty, there is no need for people like us. As long as persons who are paid a salary from public funds to look after the welfare of the people work exclusively for their political masters and the rich, the fight has to continue. I’ll definitely have to be more careful next time about my safety, but the fight will go on.

Do you see your work making any difference to the situation?

I wish it was. But the situation is getting worse. That village, Ksan, where the mine collapsed on more than 13 labourers, is an example of how wrong things are. Unless stringent steps are taken by the government to stop it, we will see more such incidents.

The entire East Jainita district is ridden with deep mining shafts. The whole region is unsafe now. But the mining continues. All that coal being illegally transported by the coal mafia comes from areas where mining goes on despite the NGT ban. The government and the police should understand that the ban was put in place because everything was being done in an unsafe manner.

We keep hearing the term ‘coal mafia’. Even politicians and journalists use the term. What exactly do you mean by it?

It’s a network that allows illegal coal mining and transportation. It is a nexus of wealthy coal-mine owners and financiers with selected government officials, including from the police, and politicians of ruling parties. This nexus is clearly visible. For example, when we complain about trucks carrying coal illegally and police are forced to seize them, calls are made by the powerful to free them. Then, people are used to accuse us of depriving the poor of their means of livelihood.

A coal laden truck in East Jaintia Hills departing for a destination outside the state. Credit: Special arrangement

It is the big politicians who control the officials and cops. If any policeman sincerely works and starts seizing these illegal trucks, he is targeted, quickly transferred out. Look at what happened to the former superintendent of police of Ri-Bhoi district, Ram Singh. He was transferred out because he acted against the coal mafia. The power to transfer an officer lies with politicians; without them, this illegal business would not thrive.

The NGT says the limit of coal to be carried per truck is nine tonnes. But the trucks we saw that day had about 30 tonnes and did not have any papers.

Will the investigation ordered by the state government give you justice and expose the nexus?

Without a CBI inquiry, I doubt that anything will come out of it, because it is a nexus. It may be that the government has changed and it is another party now, but it’s the same people overseeing it. They are all in it together.

We want a change. We want the investigation by the CBI to ensure that the nexus will be exposed. Also, the government has to stop the lawlessness. We want the government to work for the people and not for the politicians and their private businesses.

Courtesy: The wire

Odisha plans real-time pollution monitoring stations in mineral-rich areas

For monitoring of environmental quality in mineral-bearing areas, the Odisha government has drawn up a proposal for installing monitoring stations.

The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has identified eight mineral-rich districts for monitoring pollution by installing online continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations (CAAQMS) and continuous river water quality monitoring stations (CRWQMS) with real-time data transmission systems.

The identified districts are Angul, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Rayagada, Jharsuguda, Koraput, Mayurbhanj and Jajpur.

In this regard, the board has submitted a proposal to the Odisha Mineral Bearing Area Development Corporation (OMBADC), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) formed by the state government following the Supreme Court order to carry out developmental activities in mineral-rich regions of the state.

While CAAQMS are proposed to be set up in six locations, CRWQMS will be installed in Rayagada and Jajpur.

Occupying an important position on the country’s map, the state’s rich mineral reserves constitute 28 per cent of India’s total deposits of iron ore, 24 per cent of its coal, 59 per cent of its bauxite and 98 per cent of its chromite reserves.

The state’s comparative advantage on this account has attracted the attention of many mining and metallurgical companies.

OMBADC’s objective is to improve social infrastructure such as provision of drinking water, sanitation, livelihood promotion, irrigation, skill development for alternative livelihood and supplementary income in the mineral-bearing areas. Besides, environmental upgradation, construction of roads, anganwadi centres, power supply infrastructure, health services, development of sports and other activities would also form part of the action plan. The task of the corporation is separate from the District Mineral Foundation concept introduced by the new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act.

Courtesy: Business Standard

State govt mulls amendment to Concessions Act to resume mining

Panaji: Under pressure from mining dependants to take necessary action for resumption of mining, the government seems to be looking at amending the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (abolition and declaration as mining leases) Act, 1987, sources in the ruling coalition said.

Sources said that this was one option as that there is no positive response from the Centre to the Goa government’s request to amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act. Mining activities have stopped since March 16, 2018, following an order of the Supreme Court which held that the renewal of 88 mining leases was illegal.

Until December 20, BJP functionaries had been saying that the Centre is still considering an amendment to the MMDR Act during the ongoing winter session of the Parliament.

Minister of state for mines and coal, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, in response to a question tabled by South Goa MP Narendra Sawaikar on Wednesday, said “A proposal has been received from the Goa government to amend the MMDR Act, 1957, and the same is under examination in the ministry of mines.”

The minister, in his reply, also said that Section 8A (4) of MMDR Act, “provides that on expiry of the lease period, the lease shall be put up for auction” as per the procedure specified in the Act.

While Sawaikar may be hopeful, other BJP functionaries are of the view that the central government is not keen to amend the MMDR Act to benefit a small state like Goa for resumption of mining activities. Besides setting a new precedent, the view in the government is that the state request would go against the spirit of the act enacted by the Modi government in 2015 which was for auctioning of the natural resources, sources said.

Sources said the BJP central leadership in Delhi is examining the provisions of the Mining Concessions Act, 1987, for necessary amendment to get mining activities restarted in Goa.

A political observer said that after the results in the recently-held elections where BJP lost power in three states, the ruling party is under pressure not to ignore issues concerning the common man especially the ones which are related to employment.

On Sunday, president, Goa Minining People’s Front, Puti Gaonkar told TOI that they will meet on December 27 to take stock of the situation. Sources said that a team including some ministers will leave for Delhi later this week, most probably soon after Christmas.

Courtesy: The Times of India

70 children of Sonshi village in Goa struck in homes as mining dumps have made roads inaccessible

By Sayantani Sarkar

Samata and mines minerals and people (mm&P) organized a District Level Consultation on Children in Mining Area, Illegal Mining, District Mineral Fund (DMF) and Future Generation Fund in collaboration with SETU at Honda Panchayat, Sattari, Goa on 22nd December’ 2018.

The Consultation witnessed the presence of total 62 participants comprising of local government representatives like Panchayat Members, Sarpanch, community members from Sonshi, Soyle, Pissurle and Honda, members of Civil Society Organizations, and Women’ s Groups and Self-Help Groups (SHGs).

There were discussions on the overview of mining throughout the country, various stages of mining, illegal mining, Samata Judgement, situation of children in the mining areas and consequences on their education, health affected due to air and water pollution, malnutrition issues etc., and the need for lobbying National Level regarding Child Rights as they are being violated.

There were discussions on the situation of children in mining areas and it was said that “mining children are nobody’s children and are falling through the cracks” as they are mostly ignored by all the concerned child welfare departments, govt. authorities unaware of the mining children’s inclusion in the respective departments. There is a confusion and lack of clarity as in which department the children in the mining areas should be included and what basic facilities and amenities should be provided to them.

The community people of Sonshi shared that around 70 children of the village and the surrounding villages are struck in their homes and unable to go to school as mining companies after the mining operations came to a standstill following a Supreme Court order, stopped providing the children transport and the roads are inaccessible due to mining dumps placed near the villages. Secretary General of mm&P Ashok Shrimali said that “this is violation of the Right to Education Act and it is the state government’s responsibility to provide free transport for school.”

There were elaborative discussions on District Mineral Fund (DMF), its formation, implementation in all the states and lack of public awareness on the functioning of the DMF. It was found that people are unaware of the DMF which is meant to be utilized for the betterment of the mining affected communities and the funds collected are to be utilized to provide basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation, education, health and environmental conservation and preservation. It was also noticed that there was no community participation of the mining affected communities at the planning, formulation and implementation stage.

Shrimali stated that as per the information available, Goa has about Rs. 186 crore under DMF of which Rs. 10 crore has been utilized. However the ground reality is that due to mismanagement of funds, the amount spent has not benefitted the mining affected communities.

Executive Council Member of mm&P, Goa Ravindra Velip, said that no district has developed a comprehensive DMF plan to ensure need- based investments in mining affected areas. He alleged that while the role of gram sabhas and panchayats are sidelined, no beneficiaries are identified under the scheme.

Courtesy: Counterview

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