Shillong, Aug 7 IANS | 3 months ago

Congress leaders from Meghalaya Thursday met President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi to seek his immediate intervention over the National Green Tribunal's ban on rat-hole coal mining in the state.

"The ban has not only crippled the lives of lakhs of tribal people in Meghalaya but also thrown out of gear large segments of migrant population who worked in these mines," Congress MP from Shillong Vincent H. Pala informed Mukherjee.

"Some families have even started selling their children due to distress," said Pala, who led the five-member Congress delegation.

On Friday, the tribunal upheld its ban on coal mining in Meghalaya, contending that right to life was far more significant than economic interest and the latter cannot be allowed to gain preference.

Pala urged Mukherjee to exempt the application of Acts of parliament to three autonomous district councils to protect the traditional and customary economic engagements of the tribal population.

Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, Meghalaya's three district councils - for the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills - have powers on myriad issues including forests and tax collection.

Pala said the president has the powers to exempt or modify the application of Acts of parliament to the autonomous councils, "which has never been invoked in the past".

"This salutary constitutional provision is aimed at protecting the customary and traditional practices of life and life-dependent economic activities in territories covered by the Sixth Schedule," he said.

The time has come for invoking the provision for protecting the basic social and economic rights integral to decent livelihood of the tribes of Meghalaya, he said.

Upholding its ban on coal mining in Meghalaya, the tribunal contended that the right to life was far more significant than economic interest and the latter cannot be allowed to gain preference.

"Article 21 of the Constitution gives predominance to right to life than any other interests including economic interest. In the largest democracy of the world, we cannot permit economic interest to be preferred over to right to life and living in a healthy environment just because the activity should be allowed to carry on," Justice Swatanter Kumar said on unscientific coal mining in the state.

Mining in Meghalaya is controlled by the indigenous people who own the land. Coal is extracted by a primitive surface mining method called "rat-hole" mining that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits. Workers and children go into these holes to extract coal using tools such as pickaxes, shovels and buckets.

(Posted on 07-08-2014)

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