Meghalaya mining disaster exposes a whole bunch of administrative lapses

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Time is running out for 13 miners that are stuck in an illegal mine at Ksan, near Lytein river in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district since December 13. About 20 miners went into the 370-foot-deep mine in search of coal and eventually entered what the locals call “rat-holes”- horizontal tunnels that can fit just one person each. According to the locals, one of them must have accidentally punctured the walls of the cave, causing the water from the neighboring Lytein river to flow in the mine.

This incident is a shocking reminder that a fast-growing economy like India is still a home for such Dickensian mining practices. This is not the first time that the country is facing a mining disaster, in fact some of the worst mining disasters in the past have happened on our soil only. For example, in 1975, more than 370 people were killed in a mining accident in Chasnala near Dhanbad. Yet, the Ksan mine was allowed to function in spite of a complete prohibition issued by the National Green Tribunal.

Evidently, the administration did not made any attempt to stop the operator of this illegal mine from exploiting the workers. The illiterate and unskilled labors from the neighboring areas risk their lives in order as this is the most remunerative employment available to them.

It was mandatory for the Meghalaya government to launch an immediate rescue mission after the disaster struck, however, it did not show any urgency in procuring the required equipment’s to dewater the mine that were demanded by the National Disaster Response Force that were not possessed the government. Though the government should have no excuses left for shutting down all such dangerous mines, what it should also offer is the adequate compensation and jobs for the next kin of the workers without delay.

Inquires of such mining followed by flooding at approved sites like Chasnala have shown serious inadequacies in safety management. Couple of years ago, in Goda, Jharkhand a landslip at an open cast mine took toll of 23 lives and also raised questions about the status of the technical assessment done prior to the expansion of extraction activity.

A study published by the IIT-Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad in 2016, regarding the three big flooding accidents concluded that our approach of blaming the entire responsibility on human error instead of identifying and fixing the root cause is what is causing such repetitive accidents. However, the case of Meghalaya is a case of illegal mining that falls in a different category altogether. Amidst this furor, the Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has accepted the fact the illegal mining prevails in his state and his government has been negligent on acting the NGT’s direction.

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