Rampant Coal Mining in Tiru, Nagaland: Adverse Prospects for the Future of Local People and Environment
By Anna-Maria Toastbread
In a few minutes after crossing border with Assam and heading more into the inner part of Mon district in Nagaland it is becoming obvious that the Tiru mining area is located just a few kilometres ahead. The traffic of fully loaded trucks carrying coal becomes dense and spacious coal deposits can be spotted along the way. From there extracted coal from the Tiru is further exported behind the state borders to Assam, West Bengal or other Indian states or even behind Indian borders. What used to be renowned for its rich fauna and flora, bird habitat and family picnic spot has turned during last decade due to the surface coal mining into a barren land. Since 2008 and 2009, the Geology and Mining Department of Nagaland government had been issuing random coal mining licenses. According to the press, despite an effort of Konyak Union in 2014 to enforce a ban on coalmine extraction in the whole Mon district till a systematic and safe method is practiced it seems that the situation hasn’t turned positive at all. Fertile land for generations used for farming became vast excavated surface where randomly heaped hillock are followed by mining holes some of them already filled with polluted water. The largest environmental and social impacts, as usual, bear the common people.
Taking deeper insight into a land tenure system in Nagaland where most of the land is under individual or community ownership, plus in the Mon district the entire land falls under a supervision of village chiefs the story of the existence of coal mines in the Tiru unravels. In order to control illegal mining Nagaland Coal Policy was formulated in 2006 under which Coal Prospecting Licenses (CPL) and Coal Mining Lease (CML) are issued by the state Geology and Mining Department. Even though CPL and CML are limited only for Nagaland citizens there is no single Naga mine owner in the Tiru. Contractors from outside take advantage of local people who provide their names for licensing and local land owners who lease their land in a mutually beneficial system “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” with various back door appointments included. It is common that under one license holder fall more contractors that operate several mines in the area. Regarding the current license system accountability and revenues to the Nagaland government become an issue. Since licenses are registered on local men, who in practice don’t have anything common with operation of mines, in case of disaster they are the ones who will be responsible, unlike contractors from outside who extract the biggest profit with a lack of responsibility. The viability of particular mining spot hovers around 5 years. After coal reserves are exploited, contractors shift their operation to another pre-selected and pre-tested spot leaving behind barren land without any sign of revitalization attempt. Natural wealth is turned into fast cash without any additional value where almost all profit is exported behind the Nagaland borders and space for the grey economy is fostered. Apart from the precipitous system that favours outside contractors over interests of local people and the state, working conditions of mine employees is a further topic to be addressed. Intrusive heat due to gas leakage which is a side product of mining is omnipresent in whole area and is intensifying in locations, where drilling takes place. Two shift mines operation runs 24 hours 6 days a week from October to April, excluding the rainy season, thus employees usually work 12 hours a day either on the morning or night shift. For their toil are basic labourers paid mere 5000 Rs. a month.
Environmental impacts of the rampant and uncontrolled mining in the Tiru adversely affect daily lives and daily basic needs of local people. Polluted ground water is pumped out into nearby Teyap river that together with surface pollution flushed during the rainy season has poisoned the river and adjacent land. People from the village of Lower Tiru reported a dramatic deterioration of access to drinkable water, increasing incidence of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria or typhoid and annual decrease in a yield of agricultural production. Due to bad conditions of the soil in many areas the land had to be already abandoned. People who traditionally make their self-reliant livelihood out of agriculture and jungle have to search for different means of their needs satisfaction often depended on a low paid jobs in mines, public distribution system and imported market food from Assam.
Not just rich stock of biodiversity and life supporting ecosystem services are being lost. Along with that the culture and traditional knowledge of people who for generations used to cultivate their land independently on a larger system is disappearing. Native North American tribe of Iroquois confined so-called seventh-generation rule, according to which our major decisions and actions must take into account the needs of our offspring up to seven generations ahead, if we want to live a satisfying and peaceful life on this planet. However, if we want to take into account those who will come after us, to maintain human-environment relations is one of the fundamental conditions. Without considering life-supporting values of the environment a possible future of places like the Tiru is insecure.
(The author is a European PhD student of Environmental humanities, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic)