MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ongoing efforts to reach victims of a mining disaster in northeastern India have exposed what campaigners say is poor enforcement against such illegal mines, where undocumented workers risk injury or death.
At least 15 people were trapped when an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya state flooded on Dec. 13. Rescue efforts continue, although relatives said this week they had lost hope that the miners were still alive.
Environmental concerns have led to India imposing bans on the mining of coal, mica and sand, among other minerals. Yet, workers across the country continue to put themselves at risk as illegal mining continues.
“A ban does not mean you close your eyes to (mining). It means you physically protect (natural resources) in some way,” said Sumaira Abdulali, founder of the environmental advocacy group Awaaz Foundation.
“But we never set systems in place. We would prefer for things to remain invisible.” The most recent disaster highlighted the dangers of so-called “rat-hole” mines, where workers crawl into narrow shafts on bamboo ladders to extract low-quality coal.