Green tribunal acts tough on Meghalaya coal mine tragedy

Shillong, Jan 24: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Friday directed the Meghalaya government to submit the final report on the 15 missing coal miners, trapped in a flooded coal pit, by April 4 -the date fixed for the next hearing.

The accident happened July 6, 2012, at Nengkol in Rongsa Awe region of Nangalbibra in South Garo Hills district.

“The fate of human beings cannot be that of cattle and neither the state nor NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) could wash their hands of it,” National Green Tribunal circuit bench, comprising judicial member Justice M.S. Nambiar and expert member Ranjan Chatterjee, said.

“We are shocked to note that it is suspected that 15 human beings were inside the mine at the time of the mishap and suspected to be dead. There was no serious action to find out whether there was any labour inside the mine,” the tribunal said in its order.

In fact, the Meghalaya High Court had registered a suo motu public interest litigation holding the Meghalaya government, coal manager and owner, the ministry of environment and forests, Directorate General of Mines Safety and the ministry of coal as respondents.

The court had appointed A. Paul as the Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) in the case, and subsequently transferred it to the NGT.

The tribunal directed Paul (absent Friday) to be present at the next hearing and in the event of her inability, the tribunal directed the high court to appoint a new Amicus Curiae.

The bench was critical of the NDRF in its search and rescue operation and ordered its assistant commandant, officer in-charge to “complete the search” of the missing miners.

“If the coal miners were there and they could not escape, their skeletons should be there and these should be taken out,” the tribunal said.

It also directed the mine contractor to furnish its 2012 mining details and “names and details of residences” of the miners engaged.

“These details should be furnished before the tribunal in the next hearing and any violation would be seriously viewed, warranting stringent action,” the order said.

The bench also directed the Meghalaya government to advertise through newspapers the names of the six miners belonging to Assam’s Dhubri district, asking them to appear before the tribunal April 4.

“If the said labourers are alive, they themselves or if they are not, their dependents may appear,” the tribunal said.

IANS