Thursday, May 5, 2011

Environment talk but no action in Meghalaya

(This article was carried by The Shillong Times (TST) on the 25 of April 2001)

Perhaps it was the first the time in the history of the state Assembly that environment issue popped up for discussion for the maximum number of times during the last sitting of the house. If the recently concluded budget session is to be chronicled in the history of the state, it should be for the reason that environment issue figure in the busy schedule of the house. A member of the august even question the way environment clearance was issued to some cement companies to established their units and mining areas on forested area which is against the Indian Forest act. But the issue of land grabbing by the cement companies is perhaps one subject that took even some of the season MLA by surprise. It was this unpleasant discover that made a major coalition partner of the government to demand for a cabinet order to stop transferring land to any company before the land transfer act is duly amended.  
In fact our MLA should not be surprise of the fact that the entire elaka Narpuh in now in the hand of the prominent cement companies. This writer had once written an article on the editorial page of this paper wherein it was categorically mentioned that in Lumchong village; the only plot of land that the villagers own is where their houses is (The last of the farmers of Lumchnong). This writer had trekked on the entire stretch of the Lukha River from Sunapyrdi (Sunapur) to Khatdum only to find that entire land has been surveyed and mapped and survey marks of many cement companies can be found dotted everywhere which indicates that the land is owned by certain company. I was not surprise to read in a regional newspaper (Guwahati edition) that a certain cement companies has claimed that it now has limestone reserve of more than 300 million tons in Meghalaya. But the big question is not how can a huge plot of land be transferred to a cement companies which is a non-tribal entity, the question is how on earth can these companies exploit the mineral when the entire stretch of land is still covered with green forest! When this question was asked in the house, the honourable minister of Forest Dr. R.C. Laloo’s replied was that the state depends on the information supplied by the JHADC. What technology or expertise does the JHADC has in its disposal to do the job, when even it’s CFO is only a pure science graduate. Why didn’t the government call for remote sensing data from the North East Space Agency in Umiam? The blame for illegal transfer of land to the companies lies squarely on the shoulder of the so called ‘local directors’ of the companies who are paid by the companies to act as a stooge or front for the companies whenever there is a problem with the locals. The modus-operandi is the companies paid their local directors to buy land from the villagers in their names for a song and then transfer the land to the companies and by power of attorney the land is at the disposal of the companies. Many of these local directors cannot even recollect the numbers of land holding that they help acquire for their respective companies. It was a greats relieve to read of the recent government official statement that the present government has decided against permitting any new cement companies in the state, but the question is for how long? Or will this government last for daring to do so?
Once while walking on my way to the church, a young advocate who came out of the DC’s office court in Jowai on his way to the District Council court, while walking along with me (referring to my writer’s-block during his last few months) said, ‘I do not see any of your article lately, anyway the one I like most is about the facebook (I think he meant the article entitled ‘How facebook help save the caves in Nongkhlieh’). My answer to the young man was ‘it is true we have been able to rid off a multinational cement company from creating havoc in the Nongkhlieh area, but I am sorry we have not been able to save Nongkhlieh from the destruction made by our own people’. It is true that coal mining is going on full swing in the elaka Nongkhlieh, very soon the famous caves with all its fantastic formations and the unique cave creatures found only in this area will vanish, and who are we going to blame for allowing this to happen? The buck must stop somewhere and in my opinion the buck stops on the table of the Deputy Chief Minister who is also minister in charge of mining for the delay he made in enacting the Meghalaya mineral policy. Mr Bindo Lanong is to be remembered in the history of the state for allowing the destruction of the caves in the Nongkhlieh ridge, by not doing what he should do. By act of omission he is responsible for the damage and Lanong and his party will have to pay a huge price for this in 2013. Had he been able to enact the draft policy and use a provision in the draft to declared Nongkhlieh ridge as Ecological Sensitive Area (ESA) the caves can still be protect from destruction. But the deputy chief minister chose to keep it pending and sit on it despite the promise he made to make sure the policy sees the light of the day by the beginning of this year. I am afraid by the time, the policy is enact it will be too little too late, as a matter of fact there is not much to save in Jaintia hills even now except for the caves on the Nongkhlieh ridge.
And then there was Salman Khursheed’s clarion call to the miners to stop mining near the river, obviously, nobody will pay heed to what the minister said. I doubt if the minister himself is serious when he made the statement, it looks like the minister made the call just because it is now a day fashionable to talk about preservation and protection of the environment particularly the water bodies of which he is in charge. Even his junior minister seems to have forgotten what his senior said minute after he utter those words; everybody knows that for ma Vincent H. Pala the occasion is only a photo op. It is suicidal for him to speak against mining for it is also like biting the hand that feed.
After visiting many of the big rivers in the district, I wrote an article on the condition of the rivers in Jaintia hills district which was carried by an English monthly magazine published from Shillong (Jaintia hills: the land of the dead rivers) way back in 2007. In Jaintia hills it is easy to count the number of rivers that has not been polluted because there are very few rivers that are still safe for human use; in fact there are only a handful of them. The four major rivers that are still free from pollution are the Myntang, the Mynriang which is a tributary of Myntang, the Umngot and the Mynkhen, these rivers were fortunate enough not to suffer the same fate the other rivers did, simply because there were no mining activity along their courses. Perhaps it is only in Jaintia hills where one can even change the course of the river to enable a person to do mining on the public land. As for Salman Khursheed’s call, well for a start our honourable minister seems to be ignorant of the topography of the land, the fact is no matter where one mines, once the monsoon rain falls, the effluent from the coalmine will gradually flow to the rivers. So it does not matter whether one mine near the river or far away, the sewage will flow downstream, this is a simple law of gravity even a young kid know. Not only active mines cause pollution, even exhausted and abandoned mine continue to cause environment degradation because coal owners do not think it is their responsibility to close the unused mines. 

Many rivers downstream of Kongong and and Phramer including Myntdu has been polluted not because there are mining activity upstream but because Kongong and Phramer are stockyard of coal and water runoff from the area polluted the river downstream. There are coal stockyards everywhere where coal is stored and these stockyards too; cause pollution. So, it is not as simple as Salman Khusheed think it is, pollution is not only from the active mines.
What is the government waiting for? Or rather what is the honourable Deputy Chief Minister Bindo Lanong waiting for? Another Anna Hazare like agitation? The department already has the mandate of the stake holders which include mine owners, environmentalist and the District Councils to go ahead with the policy, why delay?

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