Mining in “rat-hole” mines (unscientific mining of coal using small horizontal holes along the coal seams) is still carried out in blatant violation of the ban by the National Green Tribunal in 2014. Fifteen miners have been trapped in a Jaintia Hills mine in Meghalaya – the latest tragic fall-out of this criminal action.
The 15 miners have been trapped since December 13 and rescue efforts have been stalled for want of high-powered pumps to remove water from the pit.
The state government has been in denial that any illegal mining is going on – this lie has been starkly exposed. The state government is guilty of criminal complicity and should be held wholly responsible for allowing such mines to operate and without adequate rescue capability. The risks are well known and several accidents have occurred prior to the current one and yet there is an absence of high-powered pumps!
The state government’s announcement of Rs.1 lakh interim relief to the family members of each of the 15 miners, made on December 22 is hardly any consolation to the families of the miners who appear to be doomed to death.
It is not a coincidence that the owners of mines in Meghalaya, according to a citizen’s report filed in the Supreme Court in early December are several ministers, MLAs and opposition leaders. The report cites the flouting of the NGT ban and the “serious conflict of interest” in the subject, as many public representatives are involved in the mining.
There are also reports of child labour being employed in the coal mines in the state. One report reveals that child labour constitutes a significant proportion of the labour force. Many of the child labourers have been brought from Nepal and Bangladesh. In only three days, a fact-finding team (2010) interviewed three 12-year-old and three 13-year-old labourers, and some of them had been working from as young as 8 and 9 years old. Many of the adult labourers interviewed had also been working in the mines since they were young children. The working conditions are extremely hazardous with children being sent deep inside the mines to cut coal, working in "rat holes". The rat holes are deep underground and there is little oxygen or ventilation. Furthermore the majority of interviewees, including a mine manager and supervisor, reported a total lack of safety regulations.
All these facts confirm the criminality of the governments and regulatory authorities of the Indian state, who put at risk lives of workers and even children in the interests of safeguarding the profits of capitalists and the political elite.