Shillong, Aug 23 (IANS): Meghalaya's draft mining policy does not propose to ban rat-hole coal mining despite widespread opposition to it, a minister said on Wednesday.
Rat-hole mining is a primitive method that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits ranging from five to 100 square metres to reach the coal seams.
"The draft policy does not propose a blanket ban on rat-hole mining in the State, but the policy insists on having safeguards during such mining practices, for protection of the environment and also the miners themselves," Deputy Chief Minister Bindo Lanong, who holds mining and geology portfolio, told reporters on Wednesday.
He said the draft mining policy awaiting approval from the Cabinet would allow rat-hole mining, provided safeguards were undertaken.
Meghalaya has a total coal reserve of 640 million tonnes. The coal is high in sulphur content. 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.
Mining activities in Meghalaya are controlled by the indigenous people of the State who own the land.
Workers and children go deep into these rat-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 case. In Cherrapunjee region, once famous for its heaviest rainfall, environmental abuse has almost reduced the region to a barren landscape.
The region is now pockmarked by abandoned rat-hole coal mines and barren hills. Similar is the case in other districts of Meghalaya.