Coal mining in Meghalaya
- July 16, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
Coal mining in Meghalaya
Subject : Geography
Section: Economic geography
Coal in Meghalaya:
- Meghalaya is predominantly rich in tertiary coal deposits belonging to the Eocene age (36-56 million years ago).
- The total estimated of coal reserve found in Meghalaya is about 576.48 million tonnes.
- Meghalaya coal belongs to sub-bituminous type with high sulphur content.
- The main characteristics of the coal found in Jaintia Hills are
- its low ash content,
- high volatile matter,
- high calorific value and
- comparatively high sulphur content.
- The physical properties characterize the coal of Jaintia Hills District as hard, lumpy, bright and jointed except for the coal in Jarain which is both soft and hard in nature.
- Composition of the coal revealed by chemical analysis indicates moisture content between 0.4% to 9.2%, ash content between 1.3% to 24.7%, and sulphur content between 2.7% to 5.0%.
- The calorific value ranges from 5,694 to 8230 kilo calories/Kilogram
Coal Bearing Areas in Meghalaya:
- Coal is found in all three undivided hill regions (namely Khasi, Garo and Jaintia) of Meghalaya.
Coal mining in Meghalaya:
- Though the coal mines all over the county were nationalised by an Act passed by the Parliament, that is, Coal Mines Nationalization Act, 1973, and subsequently brought under the Coal India Limited in November, 1975, the coal mines in Meghalaya remained outside the provisions of the said Act due to Sixth Schedule of Constitution of India.
- Hence, the land owners are also the owners of the minerals below their land.
Rat hole mining:
- Coal in Meghalaya being found deposited in thin seams imbedded in sedimentary rocks, sandstones and shale is mined by making tunnels through the coal seam.
- The tunnels being narrow are referred to as ‘rat holes’ and the mining method is commonly known as ‘rat hole mining’.
- The rat hole mining is a primitive method of mining and mostly done manually by employing small implements and machineries.
- In this method of mining, a narrow tunnel is dug either through the side of the hill (referred to as- side-cutting) or through a rectangular shaft/pit (known as box-cutting) and coal is extracted manually.
- In ‘side-cutting’ rat hole mining a hole is cut from the side of the hill where coal seam is visible from outside or there is possibility of coal seam located inside. Through a narrow tunnel the miners explore the inside of the hill for coal and if found extract it manually through small implements.
- In the box-cutting method the land is, first cleared by cutting and removing the ground vegetation and then pits ranging from 5 to 100 m2 are dug vertically into the ground to reach the coal seam. The depth of the vertical shaft varies from 20 m to 130 m depending on the depth of the coal seam. Thereafter, horizontal narrow tunnels are made into the seam. The height of the tunnel, in most cases is about 3 to 4 feet due to thin coal seems.
- In both methods (side-cutting or box-cutting) the miners enter/ crawl into the tunnel and mine the coal with small shovel.
Implications of Rat Hole Mining
- The water sources of many rivers, especially in Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic.
- The water also has high concentration of sulphates, iron and toxic heavy metals, low dissolved oxygen (DO) and high BOD, showing its degraded quality.
- The roadside dumping of coal is a major source of air, water and soil pollution.
- Off road movement of trucks and other vehicles in the area for coal transportation also adds to the ecological and environmental damage of the area.
- The practice has been declared as unsafe for workers by the NGT.
- The mines branch into networks of horizontal channels, which are at constant risk of caving in or flooding.
Order by National Green Tribunal (NGT):
- It is illegal as The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya in 2014
- The ban of transportation of already mined materials will also continue.
- Coal mine owners have left thousands of abandoned
- The Government does not insist that they reclaim and afforest those
- In 40 years of mining and profiteering, the mine owners have till date not constructed a single hospital or even a school. There is complete disregard for corporate social responsibility because the mines are privately owned by the
How does the ban affect local people?
- Mining has provided jobs to local people. Following the ban, there are demands for rehabilitation or alternative employment.
- It was a major issue in the assembly polls. The new state government challenged the ban in the Supreme Court in November that allowed the transportation of already extracted coal till 31 January.
- A citizens’ report filed in the apex court names several state legislators who have stakes in the largely unregulated coal mining and transportation industry.