Mining in Meghalaya | 05.2014 | for Circle of Blue | Choke Point India​​​​​​​
National court orders an end to feudal labor conditions, wanton water pollution and deadly accidents after the 2012 deaths of 15 miners who drowned in a box mine in the Garo Hills; the worst mine disaster in Northeast India in a decade. By behaving in ways that serve only their self interest, mine owners and Meghalaya’s hands-off state government have depleted coal resources, wrecked the land and water, and put an immigrant oppressed labor force in harm’s way.

Roadsides in Meghalaya are staging areas for unloading, sorting, and loading coal on trucks that transport most of the fuel out of the state. All of the loading is done manually.

The Meghalaya box mine is a fiercesome sight. The sides of the mine, cut from limestone and sandstone, typically plunge 60 to 70 meters (197 to 230 feet) straight down to the coal seams at the black bottom.

The landscape is marked and marred by the signs of mining; holes, shafts and debris.

The high-sulfur coal from Meghalaya’s mines mixes with water to form an acidic solution that turns streams the color of dried blood.

The Lukha River, which drains the Jaintia Hills coalfields and then runs south into Bangladesh, supported an abundant fishery. One day in January 2007 the river turned sports drink blue. The discoloured water killed thousands of fish. 

On the banks of the other wordly-blue Lukha River, a zoologist with the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board tests the acidity of the water. It measured a pH of 4.5, sufficiently acidic to kill fish.

Since 1999, seven big cement plant plants have been constructed in the Jaintia Hills. They receive limestone from local mines, are powered by captive coal-fired electrical plants, and produce almost 18,000 tons of cement daily. Landowners along the Lukha River are convinced that drainage from limestone mines is a factor in why the river turns blue.

A limestone quarry supplying the several cement plants nearby.

Much of the coal mined in Meghalaya fuels chemical and steel plants in a desperately polluted industrial area outside Guwahati, the capital of Assam.

Run off and debris from limestone quarries and coal mines dirties and colours most streams.

A landscape scarred by mining.

Meghalaya produces over six million metric tons of coal annually, using primitive tools to fracture rock by hand and haul coal from long “rathole” mines. This mine, so narrow that a grown man has to crawl on his hands and knees, is southeast of Shillong.

An active rathole mine south of Shillong overseen by a manager who worked in it as a young man 40 years ago.

Two miners drag a cart of coal out of a rathole mine south of Shillong. The coal face is at the end of a tunnel over one kilometer long. It takes miners an hour to trudge to the coal face, an hour to mine and fill the cart, and an hour to pull the cart with $2 worth of coal back to the mine entrance.

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