SHILLONG, February 9, 2019: A member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Friday expressed concern that children are being employed in coal mines of Meghalaya, which was banned by the National Green Tribunal four years ago. NHRC member Justice P C Ghosh also urged the authorities to stop illegal coal mining to address its impact on environment and for the safety of labourers.
“The tunnels of the mines are called rat-holes because of their small heights. (That is why) children are generally employed in these coal mines,” Justice Ghosh said while addressing a workshop on elimination of bonded labour and child labour system here. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow horizontal tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The NHRC member said it has been observed that water floods those mines resulting in the death of many, as in the case of one in East Jaintia Hills district recently.
He hoped that the authorities have taken steps to address the difficulties being faced by the affected labourers’ families. The state government has provided Rs 1 lakh interim relief to the family members of those labourers trapped in the illegal coal mine. Altogether 15 labourers had been trapped in that flooded mine in December and till now, only one body could be retrieved. Water had gushed into the mine from a nearby river after breaking a wall.
The divers of the Navy and the NDRF had retrieved the body last month using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Though another body was detected by the ROV, it could not be retrieved and has apparently been lost again in the turbid water inside deep into the mine, operation spokesperson R Susngi said.
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At present, the Navy is operating the ROV round the clock while dewatering processes by various agencies is continuing side by side, he said.
The coal mine owner Krip Chullet was arrested on December 14, a day after the accident took place. Two more persons allegedly involved in operating the mine are on the run.
Efforts to end child labour in Meghalaya: Dy CM Tynsong
Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong on Friday admitted the prevalence of child labour in the state but said a mechanism has been put in place to ensure that the state is completely free of the social malaise. Tynsong also hit out at an NGO for its claim to have detected 70,000 cases of child labour in the coal mines of the northeastern state. “The government does not say that there is no child labour here. We do have. But the fact is that a mechanism is now in place.
“We have constituted district task forces headed by deputy commissioners and there is enough manpower. Labour inspectors are posted in each of the 46 blocks and we hope that the state will be a child labour free state,” he said. The deputy chief minister was addressing a workshop, jointly organized by the National Human Rights Commission and the states labour department, on the eradication of bonded labour and child labour. During 2010-11, the Planning Commission had asked for a clarification from the state government on a report of a city-based NGO, which claimed to have detected over 70,000 children working in the coal mines, the deputy chief minister said.
He said the cabinet had taken up the matter and a report was sought within a week. “When the report came, it was found to be untrue. I do not know how they (NGO) collected the information,” he said.
Labour Commissioner B Mawlong said the NGO report was “far-fetched” but admitted that instances of child labour have been detected from time to time in Jaintia Hills district. Labour inspectors have conducted over 31,600 inspections and a state protocol on child labour has been published on how to prevent, rescue children from getting forced into labour and also to assist the victims, Mawlong said.