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19 Dec 2018

India: Meghalaya’s coal district marred by illegal mining, unsafe working conditions, and attacks against human rights defenders

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On 8 November 2018, a prominent women's rights and environmental activist, Agnes Kharshiing, and her aides, Amita Sangma and Emiki Kurbah, were attacked by a group of 30-40 people in the East Jaintia hills, a coal-rich district in Meghalaya, India. Ms. Kharshiing is known for her activism against illegal mining. The attack occurred while she and her aides were taking photos of coal-mining activities in the area. The day before, Ms. Kharshiing had filed a complaint regarding trucks transporting coal in the region. Civil society and activists groups warn that this attack demonstrates the emergence of a “coal mafia” in the state, with some expressing concern about impunity for this and similar attacks.

Approximately one month later, at least 14 miners were trapped in an illegal “rat-hole” mine operating in the same district. These types of mines are known for their dangerous working conditions. In April 2014, the National Green Tribunal ordered the suspension of all rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya; however, it has allowed the transport of already-mined coal until 31 January 2019. The ongoing permissibility of transportation means that rat-hole mining continues in the region, often by minor workers who are hired for their small size and ability to fit in narrow tunnels.