Twenty-five years ago this would most likely be a story of terrible working
conditions, corruption, poor government oversight, dismally low pay and poverty in
Meghalaya, one of India’s smallest and poorest states. It is still a story of
terrible working conditions, corruption and poor government oversight but no longer
a story of low pay and poverty.
Today's narrative in the Jaintia Hills, perched between the Himalayas and the vast
plains of Bangladesh, is one of a rapid scramble for wealth and the exploitation of
ancient tribal land and verdant forests for cheap coal that fuel India’s industrial
growth. More than 70 percent of the land in this region is used in mining activities
and large scale extraction is carried out in the absence of government regulation.
The number of such mines, known as "Rat Hole" mines, is unknown due to the lack of
regulation but local mine owners estimate the number to be in the thousands. Migrant
workers here earn up to ten times the national average wage with many tribal
landowners no longer needing to work, watching their bank accounts grow as their
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