A tragedy that was long in the making -Patricia Mukhim
Illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya persists despite ruinous effects on the environment
The efforts to reach the 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in the East Jaintia hills of Meghalaya since December 13 continue, but they began belatedly and have faced many problems.
Doomed from the beginning
First, the Meghalaya government has no idea what happens inside these rat-hole mines, which are barely 2 ft wide, since mining is a private activity. Despite the National Green Tribunal ban of April 2014, mining continues in the State. Second, it was unfortunate that the district administration assumed the miners to be dead on the very day of the tragedy. This assumption was evident in the letter written to the National Disaster Response Force. It was only after a Delhi-based lawyer, Aditya N. Prasad, represented by senior Supreme Court advocate Anand Grover and his team of human rights lawyers presented their suggestions to the court that the Meghalaya government got different actors to the accident site. Mr. Prasad has never visited Meghalaya. When asked why he is the petitioner on behalf of the miners, he simply said: “They are fellow Indians and my brethren.” That someone based in Delhi should have the empathy lacking in the people and the government shows that humanity is a dying virtue.
Mr. Prasad has done everything possible to put things together to assist the rescue mission. But despite his initiative, things were delayed. The distance of the mine, for one, was a major hindrance. Then there are other issues that need to be highlighted. The trapped miners were being racially profiled in the minds of the people and the state. Of the 15 miners, only three were locals from the nearby village of Lumthari. The rest were Muslims from Garo Hills, Meghalaya, and Bodoland, Assam. Their socio-economic profile also worked against them. They were the poorest of the poor who took a huge risk to enter a mine and dig for coal without any safety gear.
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