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Unregulated coal mining in Ladrymbai, India, presents environmental challenges

We are pretty used to reading about safety and environmental issues with coal mines in China and the United States. Now, we are learning about India, the world's third largest producer.

As the Indian magazine Frontline reported in 2006:

The haphazard mining has been taken to such absurd levels that Ladrymbai town is sitting on a rabbit warren of crisscrossing tunnels. Should a major earthquake occur in this seismic zone the entire town could cave in, residents fear. They have to negotiate mountains of coal lying all around them, blocking their doorways and polluting water sources and fields. Their children have nowhere to play, except on coal heaps. The destruction of tree cover has seen a fall in the level of groundwater and rainwater run-off. There is no access to clean drinking water.

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A crane lifts miners out of a 300ft deep mine shaft, as they head out for their lunch break on April 13 near the village of Latyrke near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. The Jaintia hills, located in India's far North East state of Meghalaya, miners descend to great depths on slippery, rickety wooden ladders. Children and adults squeeze into rat hole like tunnels in thousands of privately owned and unregulated mines, extracting coal with their hands or primitive tools and no safety equipment. Workers can earn as much as $150 per week or 30,000 Rupees per month, significantly higher than the national average of $15 per day. After traversing treacherous mountain roads, the coal is delivered to neighboring Bangladesh and to Assam from where it is distributed all over India, to be used primarily for power generation and as a source of fuel in cement plants. Many workers leave homes in neighboring states, and countries, like Bangladesh and Nepal, hoping to escape poverty and improve their quality of life. Some send money back to loved ones at home, whilst many others squander their earnings on alcohol, drugs and prostitution in the dusty, coal mining towns like Lad Rymbai. Some of the labor is forced, and an Indian NGO group, Impulse, estimates that 5,000 privately-owned coal mines in Jaintia Hills employed some 70,000 child miners. The government of Meghalaya refuted this figure, claiming that the mines had only 222 minor workers. Despite the ever present dangers and hardships, children, migrants and locals flock to the mines hoping to strike it rich in India's wild east.

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22-year-old Shyam Rai from Nepal makes his way through a rat hole tunnels inside of a coal mine 300 ft beneath the surface on April 13 near the village of Latyrke near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Inebriated workers loiter at the site of a coal depot on April 14 in Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. Local schools in the area, providing free tuition, find it difficult to convince parents of the benefits of education, as children are seen as sources of income. The lure of the mines is stronger than that of the classroom.