SHILLONG, Aug 2 (IANS): The Shillong bench of the Gauhati High Court has registered a public interest litigation on the recent deaths of 15 coal miners in Meghalaya's South Garo Hills. The miners were trapped inside a mine at Nengkol in Rongsa Awe region of Nangalbibra, South Garo Hills last month. All the miners were feared dead.
"Human life is too precious. The rescue operations conducted by the state police and other organisations hitherto appeared to be too little and too late: none of those 15 miners were apparently rescued alive. We are constrained to intervene since this is not the first incident of this kind in Meghalaya," the high court stated Wednesday while registering suo-moto public interest litigation in relation to the July 6 incident.
Meghalaya has a coal reserve of 640 million tonnes. The coal is high in sulphur content and is mostly of sub-bituminous type.
Most of this coal reserve is mined unscientifically by individuals and local communities. Due to unscientific coal mining, the water sources of many rivers, especially in Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic.
The Court asked Meghalaya advocate general of K.S. Kynjing to obtain report from the Chief Secretary as to what steps have been taken by the State Government to enquire into the circumstances which led to the tragedy.
Further it would seek a report as to what steps are being taken to ensure the safety of miners in the state so that such a tragedy does not recur.
"The government report shall also mention the identity of the miners who are feared dead and whether any ex-gratia payments are being made to their families," the court directed.
The government report will be submitted in the form of an affidavit by Aug 24. A Paul, has been appointed to assist the court as the Amicus Curiae in the case.
Mining activities in Meghalaya are controlled by the indigenous people of the state who own the land. The coal is extracted by primitive surface mining method called "rat-hole" mining that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits ranging from five to 100 sq.m. to reach the coal seams.
Workers and children go deep into these holes and extract the coal using traditional tools. Makeshift bamboo ladders take miners down into the pits to chip away through two-feet-high tunnels.
Once the coal has been extracted these mines are abandoned and left exposed in several instances in the state. In Cherrapunjee, once famous for its heaviest rainfall, environmental abuse has almost reduced the region to a barren landscape.