Does it surprise anyone to see the news item in the Shillong Times (Wednesday February 22) which says ‘Lanong bats for cement cos?’ Well, I for one, am not. In fact anybody who follows the development of the allegations against the cement plants know for sure that there is more than what meets the eye when the Government which Bindo Lanong has co-led terms the findings of the High Level Committee which indicted the cement companies as inconclusive.
One wonders from where our honourable deputy chief minister got the information that there are grasslands in Narpuh? Everybody in Jaintia hills knows that Narpuh area is covered with dense forest and the area where the industrial activity is going on falls in the category of the un-classed forests in the records of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. If there are grasslands in the area, did Mr. Lanong happen to see any cattle, sheep or goats on his way to the cement company’s sites in the Lumchnong area? Well maybe because it is just one of trip so there is a very slim chance of him and his entourage seeing any herds of animals on the way. But in one visit to the area can the same Bindo Mathew Lanong concluded that the cement plants did not violate the Forest Act and did not pollute the Lukha River?
If all it takes is one visit to the area by the Deputy Chief Minister to gather all the necessary information to conclude the case, then I must salute our man for being a superman. Well, I borrowed this from a young net-savvy Meghalayan who made this remark on facebook when the statement of the same Bindo Lanong after his one day trip to Sohkymphor was made public. Bindo declared that the cracks in the village market is not due mining and there is nothing to worry about. The young man commented that may be our deputy CM is having those x-ray visions similar to that of superman to see what lies beneath the ground. If in just one trip and using only his God-given five senses, Lanong can declare what others in his position would sophisticated remote sensing before they arrive at any conclusion, it makes one suspect if the MUA government is really serious in its efforts to the protect the environment. If Lanong would have called for satellite imagery of the area taken before the cement companies started to pitch their tents in the area, he would certainly not make those off-the-cuff remarks in the press. But again who knows? Perhaps the forests in the images will change to grasslands you’ll never know. Or if only Bindo Lanong would request for a copy of the RTI and other information collected by the Movement for Right to information, he would have gained a lot more information about the area. But then again it depends if he is really interested in having the right information to make his conclusions.
If one would only use one’s sense of sight, one would see that areas like Syndai, Nongtalang, Saipung and Narpuh where there are huge limestone deposits, no grass grows in the area except broom stick which was planted after clearing the forests. And from the textbooks we studied in school, we learned that the area is covered with sub-tropical forest and not grassland. The problem is Bindo visited the places many years after the cement companies have started production and what did he expect to see? It is an open secret that the modus operandi that the forest department of the JHADC and the cement companies used before they surveyed the mining site for issuing NOC, is to ask the land owner to clear whatever trees were present in the area before the inspection. Another question that begs the answer is, is it true that while the entire area around the mines and the plant site are forested only the mine site and the site where the cement plants situated are grassland? May be MUA’s definition of forest is different from what was defined in the National Forest Act. In that case I rest my case honourable counsel. But if Meghalaya is still part of India and is governed by the same act, then the government is duty bound to make the findings of the High level Committee public and make sure that the cement companies follow all the relevant national laws to the dot.
Again if one trip is all it takes for our deputy chief minister without conducting any test whatsoever to conclude that the cement plants are not in any way responsible for polluting Lukha river, the question that begs the answer is, do we really need machines to conduct any tests anymore? And if Bindo Lanong is quoting the outdated and unreliable findings of the Meghalaya State Pollution Control board done after the first mass death of fish in the Lukha river, then may I also add that a scientist from the North Eastern Hills University has in a seminar held at Kiang Nangbah College, Jowai made public that he was not convinced by the findings in the report.
If one would walk from Sunapyrdi upstream to the confluence of the river Lukha and Lunar one would find that the river bed of the Lukha river is gradually being covered with layers of fine mud and this is not found in other dead rivers like Myntdu, Kupli, Waikhyrwi, Thlumuwi etc. Again unlike Lukha, once the rivers are polluted due to coal mining there is no annual reappearance of fishes, because the river is as dead as the dodo. Lukha is a different case study altogether. There is an annual mass death of fishes with the first rains before the monsoon and the last rain of the rainy season. If our deputy CM is really into physically examining the situation, one would only wish that he takes a boat ride from Sunapyrdi to the confluence of the Lukha and the Lunar to see where from the fine mud particles originate.
The Hon’ble Dy CM in his final statement has also stated that even local people and headmen (he forgot the dallois) welcome the industrial activities in the area since it has improved their economic condition. Using the same argument can we then mister deputy chief minister say that if selling drugs improves the economic activities of the people then the MUA government will support the people who sell drugs and turn Meghalaya to Columbia or Mexico? The debate is on the legality of the industrial activities. Using the same argument we can also say that there is no point of having the mining or mineral policy because coal mining and limestone mining has improved the economic condition of many people?
There are two things I have learnt from this episode. The UDP is no different from the Congress and all the politicians are the same and like my friend Richard Ford of Clark University said, they must have all been to the same school somewhere. Now what is so regional about the UDP? Does it really represent the tribal aspiration of preserving the culture and ethos of the indigenous people? I hope people will give their answer in 2013. Or is the Lumchnong area fast becoming the ‘biblical green pasture’ for everybody (proverbial sheep) from the headman, the dalloi, the NGOs, the churches to the parties and the government? Perhaps that is the sort of metaphorical grassland that our deputy chief minister has in mind.