Every government should have a mechanism to control or direct the business of extraction of its natural resources for sustainable developmentof the state. The question is do we really have such mechanism is Meghalaya? Andwhy not?
Perhaps the reason why the government has no control or management in the business of extracting natural resources in Meghalaya isdue to the fact that the state has too many layers of governance. It is a knownfact that for every single town or village we have several layers of authority which assert their power and authority over the area. Each strata of the governance in the system is of theimpression that it has the supreme authority on any matter pertaining to thearea under its jurisdiction.
For instance the Dorbar Shnong which is at the grass roots level of our democratic system can issue a no objection certificate to any individual or company to start any business venture in the area under its jurisdiction. Despite the fact that the dorbar shnong does not have thewherewithal to examine the consequences of allowing mineral extraction and the setting up of manufactuing businesses they give out permissions for such extraction without consulting experts in the field to enlighten the village council on the matter. They would just go ahead and issue theno objection certificate to the individual or the company in spite of the shortcomings. Very often we find that the company or individual, for their ownvested interests would prepare all the necessary documents for the project including the NOC and the headman’s job is only to sign on the dotted lines.
Apart from the Dorbar Shnong we also have the Dalois or theSyiems who likewise has the authority to issue NOC to any business group to mine in the area and like the dorbar shnong the daloi or the syiem seldom consult experts in the subject before issuing NOC for extracting mineral resources from the elaka.
Then we also have the district council empowered by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to act as a custodian of land, customs and traditions in the areas under its jurisdiction. On top of that we have the state government and its agency the Directorate of Mineral Resources and theMeghalaya Pollution Control Board which are supposed to control, manage and givedirections on how mineral resources in the state are to be properly extracted. Does the DMR even have the numbers of the existing coal mines in the state or for thatmatter any statistics pertaining to mining? The Mines and minerals (DevelopmentRegulation Act 1957 under section 4(1) prohibits mining without lease, mining plan, environmental plan, environmental clearance, forest clearance, health and safety precautions for workers.
In the year 1987 the Ministry of Energy in the departmental order letter D.O. No. EM/5/309/87 dated July 2, 1987 addressed to Government of Meghalaya directed the state government to regulate mining through the Meghalaya Mineral Development Corporation (MMDC) by granting sub leases to local operators but till date not a single sub lease has been granted by the MMDC. My fellow environment activist had filed RTIs with the DMR and all the information collected is that the DMR has not granted even a singlelease/sub-lease to any coal mining company or any individual before they started their activities which is mandatory as per laws.
The depleting forest cover in Jaintia hills is directly linked to coal mining as huge tracts of forests have been cleared in gross violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 which prohibits mining in forest areas without the approval of the central government regardless of who owns the land.
In spite of all different strata of governance in the state, coal and limestone are being mined at random in total disregard of the law. In the case of coal it has become a practice that the coal mine owner does not even require any kind of permission before undertaking mining in any area. The owner can mine at his whim and fancy and does not need any lease or NOC from any authority to start mining. We were also made to understand that Meghalaya does not fall under the purview of the national mining laws because of two reasons. First, because of the customary land holding system that we practice, and because mining inthe state is a traditional business and it is done in a small scale. Limestone mining can perhaps be a traditional business of the people but coal mining can never be a traditional business. Coal mining in the state started when the British arrived in the area. Before that people did not even know of importance of the mineral. It is an unknown commodity because to this day people in the state hardly use coal either for heating or for cookingpurposes. And finally; coal or limestone mining is not a cottage or small scale industry; it is mega business which cannot be called small anymore.
Prevention and Control of Pollution Act 1974 has been blatantly violated by the coal mine owners with the discharge of acid water into the rivers and streams from coal mines. Coal mine owners can mine anywhere; it is a free-for-all as long as one owns the land. It matters not if the mine area is near the river or next to the paddy field of a neighbour. He who owns the land owns everything beneath it too which is in violation of the universal laws. What about Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)? Mine owners do not have to bother about that. They do not have to bother about the depleted coal mines either. One can leave the abandoned mine open and let AMD continuously flow from the mine to the river and who cares if the open mine is an imminent danger to humans and animals in the area.
There is no rule of law pertaining to mining; the miners can mine their and pollute all the rivers; they can convert once fertile land into barren wilderness. There was even a case of coal mine owner who diverted the rivers to enable him to extract coal from the river bed. When thismatter was brought to the notice of the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board, the buck was passed to the district administration on the pretext that it is a law and order problem.
There are no rules or regulations with regard to the extract of natural resources in Meghalaya. It is a case of anyone doing anything, anywhere and the government turns its Nelson’s eye to the illegal act that is being carried out in broad day light. Neither the relevant central government laws are being implemented nor has the state government made any law to govern extraction of mineral resources in the state. Hence there is an immediate need to put in place a mining or mineral policy for a sustainable extraction of minerals in the state.
(The author is a researcher and an environmental activist)