Jrin Shullet, the 32-year-old mine owner of Meghalaya is in jail now facing various charges including causing death by negligence and mining without permission.
He was running an illegal makeshift mine, sending workers down dangerous “rat holes” located near a surging river to salvage coal without safeguards or safety equipment, according to a report published in The Indian Express report.
He provided jobs to unemployed men in a remote village plagued by poverty, while supporting his own family of six and 20 relatives who depended on him.
Between these two narratives surrounding the mine collapse in Meghalaya’s Ksan in East Jaintia Hill district on December 13, stands the man at the centre of it all — Jrin Shullet, the 32-year-old mine owner who is now in jail.
Lytein River gushed into the rat-hole tunnels, and are now feared dead. Shullet is in jail, facing various charges including causing death by
The Indian Express spoke to residents, officials and miners, to find that multiple strands bound by two threads — jobs and poverty — prompted businessmen like him to continue flouting a ban on “rat hole mining” imposed by the National Green Tribunal in 2014.
“Most people here are illiterate, and there are no jobs. Almost everyone is involved in mining in some way — extracting, loading on trucks,” says Lamsuk Langstang, the headman of Narwan. “It has also helped the village because miners donate around Rs 5-6 lakh every year to the secondary school run by the community,” he says.
The state government estimates that its coal reserves add up to 576.48 million metric tonnes. Former miners say profit depends on quality and the amount extracted. “One metric tonne of coal is expected to fetch anywhere above Rs 5,000,” says a former mine owner, who shut shop after the NGT order. A 2013 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General placed the “invoice value” per metric tonne at Rs 4,850.
Shullet is listed as a coal miner in the ‘Directory of Establishments’ in Meghalaya’s Sixth Economic Census 2013 for establishments having eight or more workers. In Narwan, however, no one knows how much he earned from the Ksan mine, which is about an hour away by road, or whether he was running mines elsewhere, too.
What is known, say residents, and is that he was operating with a partner, James Sukhlain, who is absconding. “James was the ‘sardar’, a term used here to describe the manager,” says a former miner. What is also known, is that workers were paid “anywhere between Rs 1,500- Rs 2,000 per day, based on the coal they extract”.
“Jrin has been mining coal for years, even after the ban because mining is a good source of income in the Jaintia hills,” says Shullet’s elder brother Korin, a labourer who is now unemployed. “Apart from his wife and four children, he was financially supporting the families of 20 relatives,” he says.
But at the same time, officials say, Shullet did not provide the workers that he employed any safety equipment and insurance cover, or put in place a compensatory mechanism in case of accidents.