Jorhat: The All Adivasi Students Association of Assam (AASAA) has threatened to launch an agitation if the authorities fail to stop illegal coal mining along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border immediately.

The demand comes after four labourers went missing at Lachit Khani in Ledo colliery under Tinsukia district on May 16.

Rescue operations were on for the fifth day today to locate the four, identified as Birsha Bagge, Alsen Toppno, Rustam Ali and Alkash Ali. The owner of the mine, B. Ganesh, is absconding.

“The incident took place in a very interior area. We have launched rescue operation with the help of Coal India Limited to locate the labourers, who are believed to have died,” the officer in-charge of Ledo police station, H. Bora, told The Telegraph today.

AASAA’s Margherita unit president Ramanuj Lakhra said despite repeated requests from the association to stop illegal mining, no steps were taken by the authorities.

“Coal mafias engage most of the villagers in these areas to mine coal. These villagers work in these mines without knowing the risk,” he said.

He said the association submitted a memorandum to the Magherita sub-divisional administration demanding that these illegal mines and illegal coke bhattas (units) be shut down immediately.

Coal is illegally mined in the hilly forest areas on both sides of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and transported to Assam to be sold in the state or outside.

Some amount of this coal lands up in the coke units of Margherita as well.

The Ledo officer-in-charge said although they have been carrying out regular operations in these areas to crack down on illegal mining of coal, the miners resume their activities as soon as the police leave. “These are very remote places and the mining units are located atop hills. As such, it becomes difficult for security forces to launch operations frequently,” he said. Manpower shortage is another problem that comes in the way, he added.

Rajen Dutta, a Coal India Limited spokesman, said the particular incident, where four labourers went missing, took place in a reserve forest.

“Coal India has applied for a lease to carry out mining in these areas but we are yet to get clearance,” he said, adding that the district administration had requested help to find the four labourers.

Coal India Ltd has open cast mining in Tikok, Tirap, Tipong and Borgulai in Margherita sub-division, which shares a 120km boundary with Arunachal Pradesh.

Dutta said illegal coal mining had become a biggest problem for the company in these areas as a large number of people were engaged in this “lucrative business”. This organised crime, involving many players, is costing the government exchequer crores of rupees, he added.

Sources said there were reports of militant groups being engaged in illegal coal mining business of late.

The Tinsukia district administration recently requested additional security forces for its coal belt along the Arunachal Pradesh border to check illegal mining.

The district administration has urged Dispur to request the Centre to spare at least three companies of CISF, which would be hired by the Coal India Ltd to check the organised racket.

Sources said militant groups like Ulfa, NSCN factions and Maoists are getting involved in the lucrative coal trade and the slush funds earned were a major source of “sustaining insurgency”.

Courtesy: The Telegraph