The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned how illegal rat-hole coal mining was still rampant in Meghalaya despite the ban on the practice impost by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The bench banned the transport of all coal in Meghalaya with immediate effect till 19 February, refusing to grant more time to mine owners to transport the coal that has already been extracted.
Rat-hole mining involves digging pits ranging from five to 100 metres deep vertically into the ground, mostly on a hillside, like a narrow well, to reach the coal seam. These pits are so narrow that only one miner can enter at a time. The court ordered the state government to file a detailed affidavit on whether inspections were being carried out at these rat-hole mines in Meghalaya.
The Meghalaya government has been seeking more time to enforce the NGT ban on coal mining in the state, but the Supreme Court has rejected the requests, referring to the tragedy of the 15 miners who have been trapped in a mine in the state for over a month. The court said the case shows how the state has failed to curb illegal mining.
During the hearing, the Supreme Court referred to a report by a TV news channel on mining still being on at rat-hole coal mines in Meghalaya. The bench said the "presumption" is that illegal mining was still on in Meghalaya because of "connivance" of government officials. "If any steps were being taken to stop illegal mining, these incidents would not be happening," the court said.
The court made the observations while hearing a petition on the efforts to rescue the 15 miners who have been trapped in a rat-hole coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills district since 13 December. A bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Abdul Nazeer had expressed its displeasure over the inadequate steps taken by the state to rescue the workers in the flooded quarry.
The 15 miners have been trapped in a 370-feet deep illegal mine in Lumthari village since 13 December, when water from the nearby Lytein river flooded the quarry. Though three helmets have been retrieved, at least seven of the miners' families have already given up hope of the miners being rescued alive. They have requested the government to retrieve the bodies to conduct the last rites.
The Supreme Court had earlier asked the Meghalaya government to spell out the measures it was taking to rescue the miners and whether the state was collaborating with the Centre in its operations. The bench had also asked petitioner Aditya N Prasad, who had sought urgent steps to recuse the trapped workers, to call a law officer of the Centre so appropriate orders could be passed posthaste.
On 1 January, divers of the Indian Navy had successfully entered the inundated rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya as part of the rescue operations. A 15-member diving team of the navy from Vishakhapatnam had arrived in Meghalaya to help with the operation.
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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2019 12:31:19 IST