Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Mining operations in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya have undoubtedly brought wealth and employment opportunities to every section of the people in the region but simultaneously has led to the extensive environmental degradation and erosion of traditional values. This is so, as the process of mining is unscientific and often known as Rat Hole Mining. The Rat Hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels usually three to four feet high for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed as “Rat-Holes” as each normally just fits for one person. The recent tragedy, in which 15 people are trapped inside these mines, since 13 December, is the result of this unscientific mining. The mining is already banned by NGT and the present mining which was going on was illegal. The initial efforts to rescue the people were slow and the real efforts were put only after Mr. Rahul Gandhi, President of Congress Party made an appeal to the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi to save 15 people who are trapped in a hooded coal mine in Meghalaya.

Till writing of this report, there was no positive news and chances of any survival is almost nil except if any miracle happens. Interestingly, the matter has gone to Supreme Court, who agreed to hear a plea, seeking urgent steps to rescue 15 miners trapped inside, on 3 January. The problem in Meghalaya is two dimensional. One is the physical and biological structure of the landscape and another livelihood of the people. Direct actions like the closure of mines preventing environmental degradation may be right and safe but consequences to retrenchment will lead to starvation and economic deprivation.The present crisis is the result of the complete ban on mining, thus forcing people to take the risk of their life. Efforts should be made to promote legalised small-scale mining in a scientific manner with a full proof system of safeguarding the environment and managing the land use of coal mine areas. The profit per unit of land from the coal mining is greater than that from agriculture. Agriculture is environmentally friendly but coal mining is not. Eastern Panorama did a cover story in April 2005 and gave an in-depth story on coal mining in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. Our warning remained unheard. This time, again we have brought out a cover story on mining in Jaintia Hills written by our own Donboklang Wanniang.

We hope, it will inspire the Government and Bureaucracy to form a mining policy, which is best, suited to the people of the region and the environment. We are deeply hurt with this tragic incident and pray almighty for its quick conclusion.

Dr. K.K.Jhunjhunwala