- There has been a ban on illegal mining of coal in Meghalaya since 2014
- Almost all political parties in the state want the ban to go
- A citizens' report claims politicians are involved in illegal coal trade
In the last few weeks, the rat hole mine incident in Meghalaya, the northeastern state known for its scenic beauty, its matriarchal society, has exposed the illegal mining of coal rampant here despite a carpet ban since 2014. Fifteen miners continue to be trapped inside a flooded 320-feet coal mine which collapsed 16 days ago. But almost all political parties in Meghalaya want the ban to go.
This week in the parliament, Vincent Pala, Congress MP from Meghalaya, raised concerns about the rat hole mine tragedy in East Jaintia hills, the coal capital of Meghalaya. However, he is among the top coal barons of the state, according to a Citizens' Report prepared by civil society groups in Meghalaya.
The report, which has been submitted to the Supreme Court, names top politicians in the state claiming their involvement in the illegal coal trade.
In the last assembly election, the Congress didn't do well in the Jaintia hill region. Their dismal performance was attributed by many to the fact that the party couldn't challenge the coal mining ban in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and later in Supreme Court "aggressively".
In fact, during the assembly elections this year, the Congress was seen by the powerful coal lobby as 'anti-mining', although it has many top leaders who have 'keen interest' in coal trade which is largely unregulated, sources said.
About 30 per cent of the 374 candidates who contested the elections were either owners of mines or have stakes in the coal mining and transportation industry, the report claimed.
Coal mining was a key poll issue for the opposition which used it to turn the table on Congress. During poll campaign in Jaintia hills region, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and his partymen were extremely vocal about the coal mining ban and how it was affecting the livelihood of many.
The BJP also promised it would solve the problem of illegal mining within 180 days. The party is part of the coalition government led by Conrad Sangma.
Ironically, it was Conrad's father, PA Sangma, who along with former chief minister BB Lyndoh tried to regulate coal mining in the state but drew flak and had to step back.
The chief minister's family does not have any 'direct' links to the coal trade, but many of his ministers and top leaders of his National People's Party (NPP) do, said the report.
Nidamon Chullet, the prime accused in the attack on Meghalaya rights activist Agnes Kharshiing and her aide last month, is known in the area as a coal lobbyist. Mr Chullet is a senior leader of the ruling NPP from Jaintia hills.
Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma were attacked by a group of 40 people - allegedly led by Mr Chullet - in the East Jaintia Hills district after they complained to the local police about illegal mining and transportation of coal, police said.
The list also names Vincent Pala, four ministers in the Conrad Sangma's government and seven non-NPP legislators who are either coal barons or their families have business interests in coal mining.
The most prominent among them are Kyrmen Shylla, the MLA from Khliehriat, the headquarters of the East Jaintia hills district and a key cabinet minister and in charge of disaster management department.
Lakmen Rymbui, another minister and in charge of the environment and forest portfolio, is another big name.
Comingone Ymbon, PWD minister, has several coal mines, the list said.
Commerce and Industries and Transport minister Sniawbhalang Dhar and his family are also involved in the business, the report stated.