A month ago in quest of livelihood to extract the valuable natural resource, coal, 15 miners were unfortunately trapped in an illegal ‘Rat hole mine’ of 370-feet-deep shaft in East Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya. The rescue team failed awfully and human life was ridiculed yet again since no major breakthrough was achieved to save any of them. It is true as submitted by the government before the apex court when bench led by Justice AK Sikri asked for the status report, that the mine was illegal, close to a river and hence the ‘blueprint’ wasn’t available to conclusively predict the location of those trapped miners.
This is not a first of ridiculous event of dreadful mining which has surfaced and has been illegal or incomplete on the legal parameter of mining regulation. Coal is one of the most regulated sectors with Mines Act of 1952, MMRDA Rules 1955, 1957 and Mines Rules 1961 applying on it. In spite of these heavy regulations, there have been constant reporting of cases of illegal mining. The Meghalaya tragedy has once again raised some pertinent issues. How long are we going to ignore the illegal operation of rat hole mining in the state? How far will we go to satisfy the greed of grand mining lobbies who have the power to turn the entire system inside out? How long will the mainstream media ignore such vital issues persisting in the northeast region?
Reporting the region only during the internal violence or political events is not going to help the people or their issues.
Energy Security: Coal Mining
It is safe to say that coal is king and paramount lord of industry. For India, it is the indigenous energy source and remains the dominant fuel for power generation and to achieve the energy demand and energy security as almost 60% of electricity demands are met by the power generation through coal. Coal has contributed regularly to the economy of the country as currently, it has a fair share of 2.3 % in GDP of India. Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that the coal is a black diamond as many say.
It is imperative to understand here the historical regulation of coal and its evolution over the time. Post-independence the sector was held in private hands till nationalization of coal in the early 1970s took place. A major driving factor behind this was the poor working condition and unchecked exploitation by the mine owners. In 1994 we saw controlled privatization through companies involved in ‘end use of coal’ and finally in 2016, the cabinet approved for privatization in the allocation of coal blocks ending the monopoly of government companies in the sector.
Regulation of Coal Mining in India
Coal mine safety legislation in India is one of the most comprehensive statutory framework ensuring occupational health safety (OHS). The operations in coal mines are regulated by the Mines Act -1952, Mine Rules – 1955, Coal Mine Regulation-1957 and several other statutes framed thereunder. Directorate-General of Mines Safety (DGMS) under the Union Ministry of Labour & Employment (MOL&E) is entrusted to administer the implementation of these statutes.
The security of laborers working in the mines has been of paramount importance under the Mines Act-1952. It was enacted to consolidate the law relating to regulation of safety of laborers in mine. Under this chief inspector and inspector are allowed to make an inspection to ensure whether the condition and state of mining is in the coherence with the law or not. The inspector is empowered to examine, make inquiry regarding ventilation of mine, the sufficiency of bye-laws and all matters connected with or relating to health, safety and welfare of person employed in the mine under section 7.
In connection to health and safety, the chief inspector or inspector can at any time call up for “occupational health survey” to provide information relating to working conditions and health hazards. The government also appoints qualified medical practitioners as certifying surgeons to examine persons engaged in the mine.
In addition to this drinking water, conservancy, medical appliances are to be provided. The act, therefore, deals extensively with the health, safety and accidents. Even after such comprehensive legislation the repeated causality and illegal mining have not stopped. This is largely due to the unbridged gap between policy and implementation. Another reason has been the circumvention of the due process prescribed under the law for obtaining mining lease, license for first reconnaissance operation and later mining operation as prescribed by law is often bypassed in the corruption at a local level itself.
Reporting Northeast Fairly
Social media gave space for people to know about the incident. However, the real culprits still remain unknown and untouched. Are we still going to ignore?
People who have been working in the space of alternative journalism for quite some time now, often believe, that Northeast region is not getting its rightful place in the national mainstream media which is heavily Delhi centric and controlled by Lutyens. The community or alternative media spaces do not possess that power which the national media has. Therefore, the media houses must also start reporting the issues of Northeast fairly. The media narrative must now take into consideration the voices and concerns from the region too.
The original version of this article was published here.
(Image Source: The Hindu)