by NEWSNER , 2020-12-07 10:52:59
Rat-hole coal mining had sucked the life out of Moolamylliang less than a decade ago. The village in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district has now risen like the proverbial phoenix to become a clean, green dot in a vast black blot.
But Apmon Pachiang, a schoolteacher and Moolamylliang’s waheh chnong, or headman, said the job of making the village of 960 people and its surroundings breathe freely again — “like the good old days” — is only 30% done.
But the villagers’ progress has been good enough for people in the mining-ravaged area to believe all is not lost amid abandoned pits and coal-blackened earth.
The Jaintia Coal Miners and Dealers’ Association claims there are some 60,000 coal mines across 360 villages in East Jaintia Hills district. Moolamylliang used to be one such village until the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole mining in April 2014.
Rat-hole mining is a term used for a hazardous and arduous mining technique where miners crawl into winding underground tunnels that are just 4-5 feet in diameter to extract coal from the deep seams with a pickaxe.
Though the NGT ban did not stop illegal mining in the district, it helped Moolamylliang reform — in part because unregulated mining had contaminated its farmlands and turned the streams acidic, and also because the village dorbar, or traditional governing body, had a change of guard.
“Soon after a younger set took over the village decision-making body, we banned mining in our area. By that time, the nearest mine was a kilometre away. Then we went about cleaning the coal-stained surroundings and planting saplings along the pathways connecting our village,” Mr .Pachiang told The Hindu.
The encouragement for the younger members of the Moolamylliang dorbar came from one of their own — Meghalaya Police Service officer Chempang Syrti, who helped organise some saplings for the afforestation drive and bring government schemes to the village.
“Today, every house has a toilet, the roads are decent and tree-lined and the young and the old ensure there is no littering. The district authorities have been helpful but we have a long way to go,” Mr. Pachiang said.
The push for convergence of multi-sector government schemes at Moolamylliang began after Malthus Sangma took charge as the district’s Additional Deputy Commissioner in October.
“To be honest, the villagers did things on their own. We are just facilitators for projects they deserve, encouraging them to become a model village for others to follow,” Mr. Sangma said at the East Jaintia Hills district headquarters Khliehriat, about 15 km from the village.
“Some say Moolamylliang is like a green island in a coal-blackened sea. I prefer to call it an oasis in a coal mine desert,” Mr. Sangma said, adding that the administration was trying to make four coke factories and three cement plants in the vicinity contribute to “earth rejuvenation” programmes in the area under their corporate social responsibility.
Among the projects being pursued is low-cost rainwater harvesting for recharging the area that has become dry because of coal mining, he said.
Another is to make Moolamylliang a base camp for tourists to explore caves, canyons and waterfalls in parts of East Jaintia Hills that have escaped the impact of mining.
“We are banking on this as an alternative to coal mining, as the local people should reap the benefits of giving back to the environment,” Mr. Sangma said.
Reference: The Hindu