SHILLONG, Dec 10 - Meghalaya politicians have usually been sympathetic towards the miners’ ever since mining was banned in the State, but Deputy Chief Minister RC Laloo has publicly stood for environment instead of unscientific mining.
Mining ban was imposed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) in April 2014 because these were carried out unscientifically and have since not been lifted. It is a fact that years of unscientific mining have damaged the environment and rivers and soil have turned acidic unable to sustain life.
Laloo while attending a brainstorming workshop on Bio-Resources Development and Sustainable Utilisation here recently recalled his childhood when there were lots of fishes in the rivers of his village, but disappeared due to “unscientific mining.”
“It’s encouraging now to see that the fishes have returned after the mining ban,” the Deputy CM said. Laloo is in-charge Science and Technology and represents Jowai constituency in Jaintia Hills district.
The district has been severely affected first by years of unscientific mining, which damaged the environment and then the ban itself which has badly affected the economy of the region and many have lost their jobs.
Although politicians acknowledge privately the environmental damage caused by such unscientific mining, but publicly they have turned the other way and are instead trying to figure out ways to wriggle out of the ban. They do so because the miners’ lobby is an influential body having their say in several constituencies of Jaintia Hills and other parts of the State with their deep pockets.
However, Laloo has no such worries. He has recently announced not to seek re-election and has made way for others to fight it out and so he can now speak openly, but it is his party that has to do the worrying.
The Congress-led Government has been burning the midnight oil to restart mining. The party has petitioned to Centre to exempt Meghalaya from the purview of two key legislations – Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 and Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.
The State wants the President to invoke a notification under Para 12 A (b) of Sixth Schedule of Constitution and keep the State out from the purview of these Acts.
On the other hand, NGT wants simple regulations in place so that mining doesn’t harm the environment and modern scientific methods are applied.
Prospecting and mining is done by miners in small land holdings of their own with no Government say under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. So, getting assistance of modern technology and knowhow would entail huge investment, which the miners are resisting. They also resist FDIs.
The Government has tried to bring the miners under a Government enterprise – Meghalaya Minerals Development Corporation Limited. The plan is to have investment from the Government side in terms of technological knowhow and equipments on the “land of the miners” and the revenue is shared. This plan too has hit a roadblock.
In this confusing scenario the BJP has jumped in. The party is assuring lifting of the ban if it comes to power in the 2018 elections. Lured by this promise, several miners are supporting the party. However, the BJP is not spelling out how it would get the ban lifted or restart mining.
Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that Centre would find it easy to exempt the State from the purview of the two legislations as these may send the wrong signal, since India is a signatory of several International environment protection agreements and at the forefront to fight climate change, including the Paris Agreement.