The attempt by the MDA Government to use the Sixth Schedule to secure exemptions from central laws governing mining in the state of Meghalaya is appalling to say the least. The Sixth Schedule was created to conserve the customs and traditions of the hill tribes who were then governed by a non-tribal majority, Government of Assam. It is important to understand whether tribal customs and tradition excluded their living environment. After all, the environment is what sustains human life, tribal or non-tribal. The Sixth Schedule is meant to protect tribals from exploitation by non-tribals insofar as their land and resources are concerned. What the Schedule did not envision is that powerful and affluent tribals could exploit their fellow tribals. As a result of this serious loophole in the Sixth Schedule, nearly 76% of tribals in rural Meghalaya are landless (2011 Socio-Economic, Caste Survey). Former Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma says this is a problem of the Khasis and Jaintias only because their land holding system is weak. He says landlessness is not a feature of Garo Hills. Be that as it may, it is the Government’s duty to resolve a threat that affects a part of the State. But that has not happened.
Coal and limestone mining has wreaked havoc on the environment and led to land acquisition running into thousands of hectares. Forests have been mined on, rivers poisoned, land alienated in favour of mining companies through dubious deals and the Sixth Schedule was never invoked to prevent all these evils from happening. Now, suddenly the Sixth Schedule will be waved in front of the Prime Minister as a political instrument so that the coal mafia that supported the election of whom a few are in the present government, are allowed a free run of the land. Does the MDA Government represent only the coal mining lobby? Should the Government not spare a thought for the ecological disaster waiting to happen? The large majority of Meghalayans that don’t benefit from coal or limestone mining have to suffer the consequences of such inhuman and reckless mining practices. Who will speak on their behalf? In normal circumstances the Government is supposed to defend the people from exploitation. In this case the Government itself has become the mouthpiece of those who exploit the people. Where do we go from here? And where is the Mining Policy?