Coal Country: Two Years After a Ban, Mining Persists in Meghalaya

It’s been two years since the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya – but the landscape continues to be dominated by the industry.

Large swathes of land have been cleared off and trucks carry in mountains of coal. Just two hours from Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital, open, active mines can be spotted from main roads.

In these areas, agriculture becomes almost impossible.

An active coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills. (Photo: Manon Verchot)

Though coal is still prevalent in the region, the practice has drastically reduced, coal workers say. Shortly after the ban, Meghalaya’s economy took a hit.

The government had promised livelihood alternatives to replace mining jobs, but many people haven’t been able to make the switch to other industries.

“We don’t have the skills to do any other work,” says Rita Rai, a migrant worker from Nepal. Rai still gets coal work for a few months every year. She shoves coal onto trucks for around 300 rupees a day.

Rita Rai is a Nepali migrant worker who moved to India 18 years ago. (Photo: Manon Verchot)

Coal dealers managing the site Rai works on say the coal being packed into trucks was excavated before the ban, so it’s legal – but the quantity of the coal and the open coal mines suggest that isn’t true.

Rat-hole coal mining is a small-scale and community-based industry in Meghalaya, which began more than a century ago. Small mines crop up throughout the state.

And the unregulated nature of the mining is taking a toll on the environment.

H Helpme Mohremen, Church Minister and Anti-Coal Mining ActivistWe have four major rivers, but of these major rivers… I call them dead rivers because these rivers have no aquatic life anymore. Before the mining, they earned their livelihood from fishing, and all of a sudden, when the mining started, that was taken away from them. [...] The way I see it, the government isn’t very serious. 

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj