Public policy disasters
Meghalaya tragedy: show how little the lives of the poor matter in India
- 15 workers were trapped inside in a rat-hole coal mine since mid-December (who are feared to be dead by now due to delayed rescue operations).
- A second disaster had struck Meghalaya’s illegal coal mines in less than a month, claiming the lives of two miners.
- Similar mine-flooding accident had claimed 15 lives in 2012 in South Garo Hills.
- India recorded 377 mine deaths in 3 years
Much like the Meghalaya tragedy, other disasters—some driven by policy and others where policymakers look away—show how little the lives of the poor matter in India.
- The tardy response of the Centre and the State of Meghalaya has exposed the extraordinary indifference in government to labour welfare and the law.
- The primary responsibility for the operation of illegal mines lies with the State government. It should be called to account for ignoring the directions of the National Green Tribunal to close them and levy punitive royalties on those that extracted the coal.
- Also violation of rules under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the responsibility lies with the State government.
- Justice B.P. Katoki committee appointed by the NGT had warned about the continued operation of the illegal mines. However, Meghalaya government failed to act and take appropriate actions.
- Mineral resources should have been treated as state property.
The utter indifference of the state government to find a permanent solution to this recurrent tragedy is significant for two reasons.
- First, it appears that the lives of poor mine workers who are often migrants from Assam or illegal entrants from neighbouring Bangladesh matter little.
- Second, the state is seemingly complicit in the tragedy by not only allowing a banned enterprise but also collecting taxes from the transport of illegally harvested coal, bringing into scrutiny the elites’ disregard for the rule of law.
Public policy disasters
Other disasters and tragedies due to poor policies and actions by the State
- Over the past year, at least 17 people are likely to have succumbed to hunger in Jharkhand, which is among the poorest states in India, as they failed to link their biometric identification or Aadhaar number with their ration cards, which guarantee highly subsidised food under the National Food Security Act.
- Because of demonetization, more than a 100 people are estimated to have died either while standing in queues for long hours or for failing to provide new banknotes while getting treated in hospitals.
- An uncounted number of labourers die because of silicosis after inhaling stone dust while working in quarries in states such as Rajasthan and Gujarat.
These deaths can be prevented by using face masks and goggles and by using wet drilling, but mine owners continue to ignore occupational health regulations.
Rich consumers who extensively use stones as construction material in their homes remain unaware of the human costs involved.
The same holds true of the recurrent deaths of sanitation workers.
In the national capital alone, more than 20 labourers have died in the past year inhaling poisonous gases while cleaning sewers and sewage treatment tanks, despite the federal government’s thrust on sanitation and cleanliness.
- State government has done little to implement reforms and diversify employment away from dirty mining under primitive conditions over the years, in spite of judicial orders.
- It is the responsibility of the Centre and the State to rehabilitate the workers from impoverished communities, reportedly including some child labourers, who are ready to undertake the risky labour because of the higher-than-average wages paid.