Friday, November 27, 2009

Of acidic water, mining policy and the fate of hydel projects in the state

Scribes from Jaintia hills district; this writer in particularly has time and again raised hue and cry against the unscientific coal mining in the region which has drastically affect the environment and particularly the water bodies in the district; but sad to say all the voices raised is like a mere cry in the wilderness. All the efforts to raise this issue in the public domain land on the deaf ears of those in power.
In the Jaintia hills Coal was first mine in the Wapung village and its vicinity in the early seventies, since then it appears as if coal magically blob up like bubbles of a boiled water in almost every parts of the district. Now Wapung has practically stop producing coal altogether, but its adjacent villages like Sohkymphor and others still produce coal in drove. It has been more than three decades since coal mining was started in Jaintia hills district, in these thirty odd years; mining has done more harm than good to the common people of the coal mining areas. Not only the environment that was drastically affected, demography of the region has changed, the society has changed and the livelihood of the people downstream has also been affected, the question is why does it take the state government three decades to wake up from its slumber? Why it never strikes the government that it needs to regulate the unscientific coal mining that was in practice in the state. The leaders of the state were living in fool’s paradise not having the vision to foresee the imminent threat that the unscientific coal mining has in store for the environment and the people. And for that matter what has the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) done to protect the environment?
Now all of a sudden NEEPCO brought to light the plight of the Kupli Hydro electric project which was commissioned about the same time people start mining coal in the Wapung area. It was a known fact that the entire stretch of the catchments area of Kupli river in Jaintia hills are coal mine areas and it is also an open secret that coal produced from Jaintia hills has high sulfur content, yet like the state government NEEPCO woke up to the reality only recently, when it is almost too late. NEEPCO has just recently accepted the reality that the acidic water of the Kupli River is having a toll on the life span of the project and even the capacity of the project to produce electricity. This scribe has already wrote (on a vernacular paper) about the plight of the river Kupli long time ago, mentioning the fact that water bodies of the river was polluted to the extent that one cannot see not even a single aquatic animal in the entire stretch of the river. This writer has also report on English daily from Shillong (not the Shillong times) about the fate of the river Lukha few years back and about the same time a premier monthly magazine from Shillong the Nort East Panorama carried this writer’s article entitle Jaintia Hills the land of the death river. This scribe has walked miles on the banks of many of these affected rivers of Jaintia hills and has literarily wept in his heart when he realizes the fate of all these rivers. Even the MSPCB has done precious little to control the pollution of the water in the rivers. As a matter of fact if we are to judge the MSPCB by the notification that the board publish in the press; it look as if the job of the MSPCB is merely to conduct public hearing for granting permission to start a new cement plants in Jaintia hills. If we are to judge by the condition of the water in the many rivers of the Jaintia hills district; it is suffice to say that the MSPCB does not live up to the public expectation i.e., to control pollution and it has failed the state miserably.
Now the big question is; what about the Myntdu Lechka hydro electric project? Like Kupli, the entire stretches of Myntdu River’s catchments area are coal mine areas except for a small stretch around Jowai town. Is the MeSEB realizing the enormity of the problem that the acidic water on the river could cause to this yet to commission project? What measure has been taken by the MeSEB to prevent this project from suffering the same fate as the Kupli hydro electric project? Or are we waiting for the eleventh hour when it is too late to save the project? Because Myntdu, Lukha and Myngngot (Umngot) rivers from Jaintia hills flow to Bangladesh, the country is lucky that people across the border did not protest against the polluted water that flows to Bangladesh.
The only rivers in Jaintia hills that were still not affected by random and unscientific mining are the Myntang and the Myngngot (Umngot), because these rivers flow from the area where there is no mining activity as yet, but the pertinent question is how long will it be before Umngot also suffer the same fate as Myntdu, the Lukha and Kupli. It will not be too late before the haphazard dumping of coal in the Mookyndur area and the coal mining at Shkentalang, Thangbuli and Jarain areas could cause the same damage to the Umngot the way coal did to the Myntdu and Kupli. If the government does not start control the flow of acidic water from the catchments area to Umngot River, the Umngot project will suffer the same fate as the Kupli and Myntdu and the proposed Umngot hydro electric project will die before it even starts. The other proposed hydro electric project of the state be it the Kynshi or other will also suffer the same fate if there is mining activity on the upstream of the river.
The other question is what does the MUA Government hope to achieve by introducing the states mining policy after coal mining has been going on in the state for more than thirty years now? This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. If it is the environment that we hope to preserve and protect, then I’m sorry to say that damage has already been done. In spite of all the facts and figure staring against us in the face, yet the land and mine owners still has the guts to protest against the effort of the government to regulate mining! The land and miners owner should first ask how they mined coal what have they done to the exhausted mine. Or are they trying to say that just because they owned the mineral rich area then they have all the freedom in the world to pollute not only farmland in the adjacent area but even water in the down stream of the river. The Government should listen to the coal mine owners and land owner only if they can clear the mess that they have already made, let them closed exhausted mines properly then give them the right to talk to the government. And why only land and mine owner protested against the draft mining policy? There is no protest from other section of those involve in the coal business because there is no local people directly involve in coal mining in the district. Only rich coal mine owners are benefited from the present arrangement, they bought new houses in the Jowai and Shillong because water in their area is already polluted and the poor has to live in the same place and suffer.
I often ask this question time and again; if coal mining can cause so much damage to the environment and the people, then the people of Jaintia are waiting for a catastrophe to happen when all the cement companies start production in the district. One can say that the plan to introduce Meghalaya’s own mining policy is a little too late but like the old adage says better late than never. One hopes that with government’s good intention; we can save the remaining area of the district from going the same way the coal mining area did. Coal owners, coal traders and NGO should join hand together to save the environment of the remaining area that we have, we have seen with our own eyes the damage that has wrecked the environment of our district, let us not think of one self or of one’s own generation only and let us look beyond one’s own selfish interest. The Coal owners and the NGO should support the Draft Mining policy so that coal will be scientific mined even though it is a little late. If we want clean environment we have to work hard and pay for it, we cannot simply sit tight and continue mining the usual traditional way and hope for a pristine, clear and healthy environment, that our state and district is famous for once upon a time.

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