What more does Nengchigen unmask?

By Albert Thyrniang

Illegal mining has once again come to the fore in Meghalaya. Unfortunately it takes the deaths of two labourers from Assam in a coal mine in Shallang to re-reveal the unholy business in the state. This paper’s recent reports of illegal mining have unmasked not only rat-hole mining but a lot of other illicit things in the state. Nengchigen has revealed much more that the illegal extract of coal and its transportation.
Scant respect for
traditional institutions
In general traditional institutions like the Dorbar Shnong and the Nokma are held in high esteem in the state. Nothing objectionable takes place in a village without the permission of the village authorities. And if something does occur it will come to an immediate halt when the authorities direct so. That aura of reverence went for a toss in Nengchigen village, the current focus of illegal mining. A nokma is the custodian of the land. Her word is final as far as the use of the land in her guardianship is concerned. But in Nengchigen her authority was distastefully undermined. The nokma did not permit coal mining in her land. But her word was not only disobeyed and her objection ignored, she and her clan members were threatened by illegal miners who she named in her FIR in Shallang police outpost.
Illegality turned the village into a terror spot. For their benefit miners did not mind terrorising villagers and compelling them to live in fear. They even involved gun men and militants to threaten and assault the nokma, her family, the village clan members and the inhabitants. Anti Dacoity (AD) camp had to be set up. The Police, instead of reporting the underground business to the district administration, thus nipping the illegality, were accused of taking money from transporting truckers, refusing even to accept FIRs and being hand in gloves with the smugglers. Posted to check illegal activities, the police now turn facilitators of crime. This reveals the deep nexus in this lucrative business. Illegality extends to the check gates, the weigh bridges and far beyond.
Might is right
It is war time. So comparison of a chalk and cheese could be excused. Last week Russia invaded Ukraine after a long military build-up. An online war too has erupted. Russia has defended itself saying it has grounds for its actions particularly fearing that its neighbour will ultimately join the US-led NATO. Ukraine, which has surprisingly been able to withstand the might of its former ‘parent country,’ has cried foul at Vladamir Putin’s unprovoked attack equating it to annexing the second largest country in Europe. You may stand on any side but observers say the principle of might is right is at work. That is still unfortunately the world order today. The mighty Russia contemptuously flew its war planes, fired missiles and sent its tanks across the border because Ukraine is much weaker compared to the former leader of the defunct powerful USSR. If Ukraine were a match to Russia, its president, whom many call a dictator, would certainly have not declared the war. Without shame the US, a country 30 times bigger, invaded Vietnam, one of the smallest countries in the world in 1955. With no justification whatsoever, America and its allies waged war on Iraq, a third world country, in 2003. Two year earlier the same combination set their eye on Afghanistan, a country torn already by centuries of conflicts. In the Vietnam war more than 58,000 were the casualties, the Iraq invasion resulted in not less than 1,51,000 deaths and the Afghanistan hostilities killed 1,76,000 people. The war declarers are not held responsible because their countries are the most powerful. Except the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte and a couple of others, no one even talks of the misdeeds of America and their cohorts against weaker countries.
The culprits could operate in Nengchigen because they took advantage of the defenceless and probably uneducated nokma and the villagers. They thought that money and connections with politicians and the police could enable them to carry on with their infamous activities unabatedly. Might is right was certainly in their mind. This is the effect of the illegal coal mining in the state. “Might makes right” was the credo of kings, emperors and totalitarian rulers but to think that in Meghalaya this creed prevails due to the nefarious ‘black diamond’ activities, is alarming.
Speaking of respect for institutions and persons in office the protests against the elected Chief Executive Member (CEM) of GHADC, Rakesh A Sangma by the pressure groups is baffling. It is not just the protest but the manner of demonstrations that is disturbing. The protesters ‘overthrew’ the democratically elected MDC from his post. Once an MDC is elected by the electorate can he be prevented from holding any office? Sangma was elected by the MDCs. Are the pressure groups bigger than MDCs and the institution of GHADC? Is this not undermining the Autonomous Council itself?
During the protest days there were also a lot of personal attacks and vilification against the Babelapara MDC on social media and elsewhere. Anyone can have an opinion on his tribal status and that of his family but the humiliation and threat is uncivilised. Respect for the dignity of a person, whoever he or she is, should remain intact at all times. Whatever one think of Rakesh A Sangma he remains the leader of the people of his constituency, at least for the remaining term of the GHADC. Any personal attack on him is an attack on the voters who sent him to GHADC. Could we also read that the celebrations and ‘victory’ rally after resignation has an element of ‘might is right’?
Crimes follow from
the rat-hole mining
The unlawful business does not end with ‘might is right’ doctrine. Crimes have followed. In March, 2018 the young RTI activist Poipynhun Majaw was murdered in Khliehriat allegedly for exposing large scale misappropriation of public funds in JHADC and illegal mining by cement firms. In November in the same year social activists Agnes Kharshiing, and her associate, Anita Sangma were almost fatally beaten by a mob that included a local NPP leader, while taking pictures of extracted coal. Recently five coal traders from Meghalaya were arrested for tax evasion that runs into crores of rupees. This is where the greed for illicit wealth can take us to. This is what money from the illegal rat-hole mining has done. The state government is in lullaby mode. Different political parties, ruling and opposition, play the blame game but no one seems serious enough even as looting the state has been going on for nearly five years.
A slap in face of
the government
For its indifferent attitude the MDA government deserves to get a slap in the face by the Meghalaya High Court. Reading the ‘on the spot’ report of the Shillong Times the Meghalaya High Court, on February 24 took suo-moto cognizance of illegal rat-hole mining of coal in the state. The Government which has been demanding that complainants arm themselves with an FIR for a hearing is left red-faced. Hope the Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police’s visit to the site produces a positive result within the stipulated time. Hope the mask will be off completely. It is noted that the state BJP has urged the state government and all political parties to not exert interference on the officials. The statement by the party in power makes the public apprehensive. There is a possibility of political meddling in the case.
Investigative
journalism is rare
It was refreshing to read the report which impacted the court’s conscience. However, it also reminds us that exclusive and investigative stories are rare nowadays. In December last year the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana said, “The concept of investigative journalism is unfortunately vanishing from the media canvas…When we were growing up, we eagerly looked forward to newspapers exposing big scandals. The newspapers never disappointed us…Investigation is an integral part of journalism. But the journalists are facing authoritarian control and climate of intimidation today in India.” This ‘death’ of investigative journalism is a matter of concern because the media is the watchdog over the powers that be. It is the conscience of the society. It is exalted as the fourth pillar of democracy.
Today there is a sense that the Indian newsrooms have become morgues for investigative journalism. It has become spineless. It does not stand up to the present regime. It has become a propaganda machine for the present dispensation. In 2018 Caravan magazine published an article entitled, “The Byline is Dead”. ‘The byline’ is a phrase that came to mean the power of journalism – the courage it provided an ordinary reporter to challenge the high and mighty. Today this extraordinary power of journalism is getting rarer day by day. It is for the profession to look into itself and bring back the vanishing trade.
Thanks to Nengchigen, a far-flung village in West Khasi Hills, which has induced us to ponder on this and other points of critical interests.
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