Miners in Meghalaya overlooked risks for higher pay -Rahul Karmakar
A majority of men in Bogidari in Chirang district have worked at some point in Meghalaya’s coal mines
BOGIDARI: Mohammad Hussain Sheikh recalls how a letter from the sirdar (manager and mine supervisor) of a Meghalaya coal mine in 2002 had helped him heave a big sigh of relief. It simply read: “You are hired. Come before the season starts in a few days.”
Mr. Sheikh, now 48, was desperate for a job after a crop failure made him default on a loan from a local moneylender. While he had only borrowed Rs. 10,000, he owed more than twice the amount in interest alone.
“I really needed a job,” recalled Mr. Sheikh, a resident of Bogidari, a village about 140 km west of Guwahati in western Assam’s Chirang district. “An agent said I could make good money if I work in the coal mines. I found the work risky, but did not regret my decision to take it up.”
About 70% of the men in Bogidari, one of a cluster of 22 villages largely inhabited by migrant Muslims in the Bhangnamari area, have worked or are working in the coal mines dotting Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills.
While the mining season across Meghalaya’s coal belt is usually from October to March, miners often work during non-season monsoon months for extra money.
Mr. Sheikh worked every year until the National Green Tribunal banned rathole coal mining in April 2014. “I worked only once after the ban just to pay off a loan of Rs.30,000 from a small finance bank. I realised the risk was no longer worth it.”
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