Making It

The new fortunes of Meghalaya’s mine owners—and the meaning of money in today’s Northeast

01 July 2011

The bottom of a mineshaft in Jaintia Hills, where abundant coal has created a new class of mining mega-rich.

DAVID HOGSHOLT / GETTY IMAGES

The bottom of a mineshaft in Jaintia Hills, where abundant coal has created a new class of mining mega-rich.

DAVID HOGSHOLT / GETTY IMAGES

HOLDING AN ALMOST PRETTY, sparkling black rock so I could see it up close, Donush Siangshai looked small against the dark mountains of coal stored outside his office in Ladrymbai, where we had come to survey his mining fiefdom one afternoon in December 2010. A modestly dressed and diminutive 44-year-old, Siangshai is an unlikely coal baron: the rough cut of his shiny faux-leather jacket and utterly plebeian baseball cap offer no hint that he pays '2.3 million in taxes and owns more than 100 mines.

Like many mine owners in Meghalaya's coal-rich Jaintia Hills, Siangshai had no proper education; his first job was as a driver. He provided an uncomplicated account of his own success: "When I started, I saved and borrowed money to buy one mine. That one did well, so I went on to buy another one and another one; and I kept going." As the mines multiplied, their output translated into stable capital. Their owner also maintains a small side business selling drinks locally. Siangshai still keeps a low profile, but this belies the sparsely known fact that he is today the most successful mine owner in the area.

Rajni George  is a writer and editor based in New Delhi. She was the Fiction and Poetry Editor at The Caravan and has been published in The National, The Spectator, Mint Lounge, Outlook Traveller, India Today, Open and El Pais, among other publications.

Keywords: Rajni George Meghalaya mines Jowai ecology Wapung 4 km Lyngdoh Kongong mining sites
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