For some, it’s the raking in of the moolah while for some others, it has everything to do with the continuity of their existence. Yet when disaster befalls and death beckons those who turn out too desperate for the means either to thrive or to survive, it’s very often the doom for those who were just scrounging for a means of their life.
The recent illegal mining incident in Meghalaya that has at least 15 miners trapped bears testimony to this disparity of existence. On December 13, the Hill state came into the spotlight; albeit for reasons it wouldn’t want to hold significance in the public domain. But indeed, it does.
Today, even 20 days after the tragedy that remains unfathomable as of yet, the situation is equally grim. And ironical as it may be to humanity in general, what’s baffling is the fact that it isn’t the loss of precious lives that has perturbed the people and the mafia that are at the root of this calamity. It is instead the unwanted attention that the tragedy has generated that is more a bone of contentment for the ‘authorities’.
Illegal coal mining isn’t anything new in several depraved areas in Meghalaya. Indeed, superior wage pays that seemingly hold the promise of a better life far over rides any threat to life and limb. Not surprisingly therefore, people turn to the coal mines to fulfil their dreams of minting comfort from within the dark confines of the world of the black gold.
But what is perplexing is that unabated mining continues in the black zone, even after a government mandate deemed it illegal to carry out such activities. Way back in 2014, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned unchecked coal mining, but with a provision that has largely been exploited ever since. The powerful coal mafia in the state is taking advantage of the concession made of allowing old coal already extracted before 2014 to be transported.
But what makes it so easy to carry on illegal mining in such a large scale even under the watch of the authorities is the high rise dreams it represents. For a certain category of the people for whom mines have been the sole source of their livelihood, a ban does not do anything to alter their desires. They envision dreams while resting on the black mounds of richness and they know only black as being the color of their monochrome existence.
Neither environment laws nor government directives or for that matter not even the risk to life can deter them from toiling hard at the coal mines. Indeed, these mines even provide an incentive- with earnings close to 30,000 rupees per month, the deal is quite lucrative.
Illegal rat-hole mining that involves digging into the side of hills and then burrowing tunnels to reach a coal seam is the ironical way out of poverty for a major chunk of the population.
The recent incident in the mine in Ksan in East Jaintia hills should, however, prove to be a wake up call for all concerned. Or even for those who seems to be veritably unconcerned with any of such happenings. A 370-foot mine flooded with water to around 170 feet should already be enough cause for concern. And with live people trapped inside, this counts as nothing short of a disaster.
Even then, the response to an incident of such magnitude is terrifyingly underscored. Inadequate pumps pressed into action in one of the remotest terrains of the country spells lackadaisicality manifested by a motive to keep things under wraps.
Since then, rescue attempts have somewhat intensified and despite scores of emergency workers and Indian Navy divers being pressed into action as of now there has been no news of the men, nor any trace of their bodies. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has also been trying to drain out water from the rat hole mine but with resources and accessibility severely limited, all efforts have proven to be futile.
And it isn’t just that those gone missing are the ones who are at risk. Their families are in grave danger as well. For apart from the bereavement of having to lose a loved one, the grimness of the situation is even more palpable in that in most cases the victims have been the sole breadwinner in the family.
Even after having the opportunity of investing their work in some menial jobs as that of daily wage labourers, it was the sheer lucrativeness of the fortune offered by the mines that had beckoned then into the depths of the dark world. Tales of amputated limbs, the uncertainty of returning or even the fear of death did not do enough to keep these men away from pursuing a life that would have somehow sustained their humble dreams.
And yet, in spite of choosing to do something that was a risk to every moment of their existence, all they are greeted with is a catastrophe- one that was forever looming but was perhaps never pertinent enough to have them shy away from the advances towards a better life.
It’s been three weeks since the tragedy and though it does feel like ages to all those who are living in the constant apprehension of the uncertainty that their lives present, the speck of bother refuses to die away any time soon.
Almost two decades into the 21st century and to still think that security of human life is just a gamble for those in power is in itself a catastrophe. With 2019 making its foray as a supposedly happy new year once again, the least we can hope for is a revival of mankind. Or is that too much to ask for? Maybe it is, if you seek to find the answer in this abode of the clouds.