[Editorial Analysis] No lessons learnt: on Meghalaya mining disaster

Mains Paper 3: Economy

Prelims level: Mining disaster

Mains level: Disaster management

Context

• The disaster that struck a coal mine at Ksan in Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills district on December 13, trapping at least 13 workers, is a shocking reminder that a fast-growing economy such as India continues to allow Dickensian mining practices.

• India being home to some of the worst mine disasters, such as Chasnala near Dhanbad in 1975 in which more than 370 people were killed, the full spectrum of mining activity should be tightly regulated.

• The Ksan mine, referred to as a rat hole, was allowed to function in violation of not just safety norms but a complete prohibition issued by the National Green Tribunal.

The administrative loopholes

• The administration did not act to stop unscrupulous operators of the illegal mine from exploiting desperate workers, some of them from Assam, who were willing to work the rat hole tunnels because that is the most remunerative employment available to them.

• Unscientific mining led to a collapse of the chamber and deadly flooding followed. After disaster struck.

• It was incumbent on the Meghalaya government to launch an immediate rescue effort.

• But it did not possess the equipment to dewater the stricken mine quickly, and did not show any urgency in requisitioning it from elsewhere.

• In spite of the involvement of the National Disaster Response Force.

• The families of the workers are now left hoping for a miracle.

• Meghalaya has no excuse for not closing down such dangerous mines.

• What it can and should do now, jointly with the Assam government where needed, is to offer adequate compensation and jobs for the next of kin of the workers without delay.

Major highlights of the incident

• Official inquiries into flooding disasters at approved mines, including Chasnala, have shown serious shortcomings in safety management.

• Two years ago, a landslip at an open cast mine in Goda, Jharkhand, killed 23 people, raising questions about the rigour of the technical assessment done prior to expansion of extraction activity.

• A study on three big flooding accidents published in 2016 by the IIT-Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, concluded that the official approach of fixing responsibility on human error was flawed, since it did not try to identify the root cause.

• There is little evidence to show that pre-mining surveys and safety protocols are incorporating such advice.

Way forward

• The case of illegal mines falls in a different category.

• Unapproved work, which appears to have led to the Meghalaya accident, cannot continue, and employment should be provided to those who are displaced.

• Illegal mining has been highlighted by activists, but they have become targets of violence by those operating the mines.

• In the glare of national attention, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has acknowledged that illegal mining does take place.

• His government has been remiss as it failed to act on the NGT’s directions.

• It must bear responsibility for what has happened at Ksan, and work to prevent such tragedies.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Which of the following is/are sources of mercury pollution?

1. Volcanoes

2. Forest fire

3. Burning of coal

4. Discharge from paper and pulp industries

5. Incineration of medical and municipal waste

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 1, 4 and 5 only

(c) 3, 4 and 5 only

(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Answer: D

Mains Questions:

Q.1) The Meghalaya mining disaster exposes a series of administrative lapses. Critically examine the statement.

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