Millennium Post

Meghalaya: Mine tragedy, ILP impasse cap eventful year

Shillong: A failed 212-day effort to rescue 16 labourers trapped in a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya marred the just-ended year, which was capped by widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in the border state and Governor Tathagata Roy's political activism on Twitter.

The rescue operations in the flooded mine, which involved the Indian Army, Air Force and the Indian Navy, along with the NDRF, Coal India, Kirloskar Brothers, were called off after 212 days, with the retrieval of just two highly decomposed bodies from the 370-foot deep coal pit in East Jaintia Hills district.

The entire operation cost the state exchequer over Rs 3 crore, while the families of the victims were given an interim relief of Rs 3 lakh each.

In a major embarrassment to the Conrad Sangma-led dispensation, the Supreme Court ordered his government to pay Rs 100 crore as fine imposed for failing to abide by the National Green Tribunal norms. The court, however, allowed mining operations in privately and community-owned land, subject to the permissions from authorities concerned.

The penalty order hit hard the cash-starved state, which is preparing for the 2022 National Games.

A citizens' report filed in the apex court named several state legislators, who allegedly have stakes in the largely unregulated coal mining and transportation industry.

Notwithstanding the chinks in its armour, the ruling National People's Party (NPP) bagged one of the two Lok Sabha seats in the state. The other one was secured by the Congress. In June, the NPP became the first political outfit from the northeast to get the 'national party' status by the Election Commission, having established its presence in four states in the region.

On the political front, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had initially managed to steer clear of the crisis over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by securing his state 97 per cent exemption from the law that seeks to give citizenship to non- Muslim minorities who escaped religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and moved to India before December 31, 2014.

With the central government implementing the Inner Line Permit in neighbouring Manipur, however, protests broke out in pockets of Meghalaya, demanding that the regime be extended to the state.

Night curfew was imposed in parts of Shillong, and mobile internet and messaging services withdrawn during the violent protests and vandalisation, which lasted over a week.To douse the fire, Sangma tabled a resolution in the Assembly to urge the Centre to implement the ILP regime in the state, which was unanimously adopted by the House.

Amid the agitation, Governor Tathagata Roy's political activism on Twitter raised eyebrows, with the Centre warning him against making statements that do not go well with his gubernatorial post.

At the beginning of the year, Roy had asked people to "boycott everything Kashmiri" following the Pulwama terror attack, which led to the death of 40 CRPF personnel.

The prolific Twitter user also courted controversy when he insisted that anti-citizenship bill protesters should "go to north Korea".

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