SHILLONG, May 7 � Rat-hole coal mining �is illegal and damaging to the environment�, but it cannot be banned in Meghalaya, Forest and Environment Minister Prestone Tynsong said today.
The State Government was directed by the National Green Tribunal on April 17 to ban illegal rat-hole mining as such practices are harmful to the environment. The Tribunal passed the order after the Assam-based All Dimasa Student�s Union and Dima Hasao District Committee filed a petition to the Tribunal against such primitive method of mining.
Tynsong said that the State Government would appeal against the order. He said that the State Government would appeal citing the peculiar land tenure system in the State, as enshrined under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and would try to regulate the age-old practice to minimise the damaging effects on the environment.
Coal is one of the minerals listed under the National Mines and Minerals (Development Regulation) (MMDR) Act. Under the Act, for mining of the minerals a Government lease is mandatory, which is not the case in Meghalaya, as under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution land belongs to the people and no lease is required to mine any mineral.
It is in this context that although rat-hole mining is illegal under MMDR and also Environmental Acts, the Constitutional provisions under the Sixth Schedule give the State immunity. �Under the Mines and Minerals (Development Regulation) Act, rat-hole mining is illegal. It is also damaging to the environment,� Tynsong said.
The Minister said that the Government would appeal against the order of the Tribunal and place a set of schemes and statutory rules before it expressing the State Government�s desire to bring in regulation. Stating that the order of the Tribunal is in the right direction, Tynsong said it has given the State Government an opportunity to bring in regulations in the mining sector.
The Minister further said that the decision to appeal against the order is not being taken at the behest of the powerful coal miners� lobby, which also includes several legislators, both sitting and former. �It is wrong to say that the decision to appeal is being taken under pressure,� he added.
On the other hand, the Khasi Students� Union has demanded from the Government to look into the issues of pollution caused by the cement companies based in Jaintia Hills. Tynsong said that the Pollution Control Board has been directed to inquire into the allegations and submit its report by the end of this month. �If they are found to have violated environmental norms they would be directed to be closed,� the Minister said.
Moreover, the cement plants in Jainita Hills have been asked to carry out compensatory forestry (in about 1,600 hectares) after a Joint Inspection Team from the Ministry of Forest and Environment found these companies of having violated environmental norms.