After the recent increase in rat hole mining in Meghalaya of India, authorities are questioning if the reason behind it is the alleged illegal fossil fuel exports between Bangladesh and Meghalaya.
A rat-hole mine involves digging of very small tunnels, usually only 3-4 feet deep, in which workers enter and extract coal.
Even though there is a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban from 2014 on illegal coal extraction, rat hole mining is on the rise. Along with it comes a series of accidents that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-allied Meghalaya government has not been able to answer for.
The Wire, in its report, asked if one of the reasons for the escalation of illegal coal mining in Meghalaya was because of the demand from Bangladesh.
Back in December 2019, a three-member NGT-appointed judicial committee discovered inconsistencies in records pertaining to coal exports from Meghalaya to Bangladesh and asked for further information from the Meghalaya government.
However, the panel's chief, Justice Katakey, quit after state government officials claimed the NGT panel were going beyond their mandate. Katakey also claimed that there was no cooperation from the states' mining department when the panel asked for information regarding the amount of coal cleared for export from Meghalaya to Bangladesh.
More irregularities showed up when the customs department provided figures to Katakey of coal that were hauled on the road route from Meghalaya to Bangladesh via seven Land Customs Stations (LCS) after the NGT ban was imposed.
The figures varied vastly from the records of the state's mining and geology department.
The panel demanded the mining and geology Department to submit month-by-month records of coal cleared for export to Bangladesh through all Land Customs Stations since the NGT prohibition, but this information was never delivered.
Justice Katakey in his initial report on the mining department came to the conclusion that the increase of rat hole mining in Meghalaya was indeed due to the alleged illegal exports of coal to Bangladesh.
The new head of the panel has also submitted two reports, however, the mining department is yet to present a complied data claiming that work for it is still underway.
Illegal coal mining in Meghalaya, according to activists, is largely concentrated in districts that share borders with Bangladesh. However, a spokesperson for the Border Security Force (BSF) denied that there has ever been any evidence of coal smuggling across the Indo-Bangladesh border.
Activists claimed that coal mafias seize land from residents in order to extract the mineral.
Workers are then forced to work in hazardous environment, leading to major accidents.
The number of accidents recorded from illegal coal mining pits in Meghalaya is likely to be substantially greater than the state government's official estimates.
Six miners died in another coal mining disaster in East Jaintia Hills in January of this year. Another coal mining accident in East Jaintia Hills claimed the lives of at least 15 mine workers in December 2018.