CSE in collaboration with Samrakshan Trust, a local NGO working in Meghalaya, organised two workshops (Shillong and Tura) on illegal mining and rat hole mining in the state of Meghalaya.
The workshops saw participation from the students' unions of the state, the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB), Forest Department, NGOs, academicians, documentary film makers, affected people and the media.
Samrakshan Trust presented their preliminary paper on the legal status of mining in the state. It brought out important facts about the ambiguity that exists in the state about laws that are applicable to these mines, the state government's stand on these aspects, etc. Samrakshan's representative, Arpan Sharma, asserted that all the mining laws are applicable to Meghalaya as well.
He used RTIs filed with the central government and the state department of mining and geology to back his assertions. In these RTI replies, the central government has agreed that all the following laws are applicable to Meghalaya:
1. Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (and the rules under it)
2. Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1972 (and the rules under it)
3. Mines Act, 1952
4. Mines Rules, 1955
5. Forest Conservation Act, 1980
6. Environment Protection Act, 1986
7. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
8. Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
The state mining and geology department also agreed with these legislations being applicable to Meghalaya. But at the same time, the state government does not consider any of the mines operational in the state as 'illegal' even in the absence of statutory permits that are absent. This legal ambiguity exists in the name of Meghalaya being a sixth schedule area where the rights for land (and by extension minerals) vest with the people.
Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general CSE, explained in detail the MMDR provisions, EPA provisions and other environmental laws/statues that need to be followed by miners in the state even if they are individual miners. He explained that the right to mine does not translate into the right to pollute and destruct environment.
Shilpa Chohan, lawyer working with Delhi based Enviro Legal Defence Firm, reiterated the applicability of all these laws to the state. The Environmental Engineer from the MSPCB argued that the environmental acts give very little power and access for them to control and regulate illegal and rampant mining. He agreed that any mining activity does require a consent but identifying individual miners is a problem.
The head of the Garo students' Union raised a very valid question, "If these coal mines are illegal then so is the royalty that the government is collecting from them." He also informed that many nationalised banks are funding these coal mining projects which operate without obatining the required mine lease from the government.
Brian from the Meghalaya Adventurer's Association showed disappointment on the fact the state mineral policy has been in the draft stage for very long. He explained that coal mining by the rat hole method is controlled by a small group of people and the community has no say in the matter. He alleged that coal mining in the state is controlled by politicians.
Glen from the Martin Luther University said that it is indeed a grim picture when one looks at the coal mining scenario in Meghalaya. He does not believe that the policy will see the light of the day and considers it an eyewash. He is of the opinion that Public Interest Litigations (PILs) are to be resorted to now without waiting for the policy. He also thinks that data collection is required to prove the point to the authorities. Many people at the meeting felt that there is a need to increase public awareness about the applicability of various laws and regulations and tools available with the people to check rampant and destructive mining.
Chandra Bhushan thus suggested a way forward where the stress was on involvement of various district councils (DC) since they are the bodies that fundamentally take decision in the state. The key aspects include: capacity building of DCs, getting the mineral policy finalised and giving inputs in the process, making sure the legislations are implemented, building capacity of the regulatory institutes, etc. He also suggested the formulation of a state level forum where all the stakeholders should come together and chart a way forward on the issue.
There was general consent on the formation of the state level forum.