New Delhi: A committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has blamed the “unabated illegal mining" in Meghalaya for triggering the tragedy, entrapping 15 workers in a 320-feet deep rat-hole coal mine.
The committee headed by retired high court judge BP Katakey has emphasised that illegal mining is unchecked mostly in the East Jaintia Hills District where workers are still ensnared.
Trapped since December 12, the mine workers have not been rescued till date despite efforts made by the state and the central government. The Supreme Court has also been monitoring the rescue measures after a PIL was moved in this regard.
Meanwhile, in its interim report submitted to the tribunal, the committee maintained unequivocally that the ban imposed by the NGT in 2014 against the rat-hole mining across the state has been violated fragrantly, and that these infringements have resulted in loss of lives and injuries to mine workers.
Highlighting the continuance of rampant illegal mining in the state amid lack of the executive's will to stop such activities, the committee revealed that the state government shockingly has no records about the rat-hole mines, number of workers involved and any other data relating to death or injuries to the workers.
The state police, the committee noted, adduced the statistics to show that there have been seizure of more than 2,700 trucks for illegally ferrying coal, registration of 1,139 cases for transportation and another 98 cases for illegal extraction after the imposition of the ban by the tribunal.
It added that during its field visits, the panel has noticed many fresh coal dumps along the roadside, most of which appear to be recently mined coal, apart from a good number of cranes, other vehicles and temporary sheds housing mine workers.
Significantly, the report also recorded an admission by the deputy commissioner of the East Jaintia Hills District – where the miners are still trapped - that illegal mining activities are ongoing in this region too despite the ban.
“From the aforesaid materials available before the Committee, it is therefore evident that the coal mining activities, which includes the extraction of coal and transportation, is going in Meghalaya, at least in East Jaintia Hills District, where such mining activities are the most despite the ban imposed by the NGT vide order dated April 17, 2014,” stated the report accessed by News18.
It added: “Very sincere and honest efforts are required on the part of the state government to stop the mining activities, which are going on without adopting any safety measures for the workers and without caring for adverse environmental effects.”
The report categorically held: “The result of the unabated illegal mining despite the ban by the NGT is the very tragic incident that occurred very recently on December 13 in a coal mine in Ksan village near Lytein River in East Jaintia Hills District where 15 coal mine workers are reported trapped.”
The committee also raised an apprehension that there are attempts being made to show freshly mined coal as the dumps lying after the NGT’s ban in order to take the advantage of a recent Supreme Court order, which allowed the coal extracted before the ban to be transported.
While seeking more time to prepare its final report, the Committee said that if has directed the Meghalaya government to issue public notices inviting claims by the victim workers or the family members of such workers who died or were injured due to illegal mining.
The police have also been asked to submit the status reports on investigation and trials against those involved in the Illegal mining activities.
The Committee's report was on Tuesday taken up by the Supreme Court as well when it expressed serious concerns over the unauthorised rat-hole mining in the state and sought to know the steps taken by the Meghalaya government to check this.