Since the beginning of 2012 the Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) is busy preparing for the 2013 general election. It is no surprise to see the Chief Minister introducing government’s own flagship programmes for the benefit of the people of the state. But the question is: are the initiatives of the government going to be just another
exercise to while away public time and waste scarce public resources? Or are the programmes going to be just an election year propaganda of the Congress party in the state? The much hyped flagship schemes which include the Meghalaya Aquaculture Mission and Integrated Meghalaya Basin and Livelihood Development Programme that the government has introduced with the intention of economically empowering the rural poor is not going to produce the desired results for several reasons.
The aquaculture mission with nine missions under its fold aims to create 60,000 entrepreneurs in 2012-13, and 4 lakhs by the end of the 12th five year plan period but the mission is inherently imperilled. The programme by which the government plans to eradicate poverty by 2020 is also expected to cover a total water area of 10,000 hectares; averaging around 20,000 fish ponds every year under the aquaculture project. This is good in paper only. It does not need an expert to forecast that the two schemes introduced by the present MUA government are not going to benefit the target group of certain areas. For starters the flagship programmes are destined to be a non-starter particularly for the people who live in the mining areas of the State and down stream of the mining areas.
The State Pollution Control Board has recently made its findings public on the status of the rivers in Jaintia hills and by doing so it has confirmed what the environmentalists in the Jaintia Hills district have been saying all along that all the rivers in Jaintia hills are polluted. Not only are the rivers in the mining areas dead but every available water body in the mining areas are contaminated from the acid mine drainage (AMD) that is produced from unscientific coal mining. It is like the water bodies in the whole of Jaintia hills are polluted when the rivers downstream of the mining areas are also being affected from the AMD produced from the rat hole mining. The Kupli and the Myntdu are the two cases in point where one cannot find a single aquatic life in the huge water bodies. In such cases where rivers and water bodies cannot hold any aquatic lives, what is the use of the two much talked about programmes of the MUA government?
Hence the Aquaculture Mission and the Integrated Basin and Livelihood Development Programme are going to be of no use for the people in the mining areas of Jaintia hills which comprises the entire Khliehriat Subdivision, part of the Saipung Block, part of the Amlarem block, part of the Thadlaskein block and part of Laskein development block where there are mining activities. It will neither benefit the people situated downstream because the rivers and the entire river basin has been affected by the AMD. One fails to understand how the government expects to economically empower the people from the above schemes which have to do with water bodies when the same government has done nothing to control and manage mining in the state? How can an intelligent chief minister fail to realize that mining and pollution are linked to each other? One cannot have unregulated mining and at the same time hope to have clean and safe water. Mining has to be regulated in order to be able to protect the environment and have clean and safe water. Perhaps Meghalaya is the only mining state which does not regulate mining. Yet the same government which has introduced the two programmes to economically empower the rural poor and improve their livelihoods with water as the main constituent of the project, is the same government which has decided to shelve the prepared Mining Policy and thereby consigned it to the back burner.
The MUA government in general and Bindo M Lanong the minister in charge of Mining in particular has let the people of the state down by not being able to push through the Bill to manage and control mining in the state. Bindo Lanong has not only deceived the people of the state into believing that he is indeed going to introduce the mineral policy of the state in the present sitting of the house but he has also blatantly
lied to the people when during many of his press briefings he had asserted that the state mineral or mining policy is ready and will be introduced in the next sitting of the house. The credibility of the deputy chief minister is questionable when the fate of the Bill that he had prepared by consulting all the stake holders is now consigned to the rubbish bin of the state secretariat.
Lanong has also taken the stakeholders (he invited for the consultation) which included environmentalists, CEMs of the district councils and miners for a ride by not being able to prepare a bill to satisfy his cabinet colleagues. He has also wasted huge public resources by taking so long to prepare a document which was not even passed by the state cabinet. Lanong has missed the opportunity to set right the wrong that has been practiced in the State. By not being able to introduce the state mineral policy, he has failed to protect the environment for the future generation and more importantly he has proved that he is no different from his two non-matriculate predecessors who themselves have mining interests. In fact the state government need not waste public resources to prepare a Mining policy. If the government is serious about controlling and managing mining in the state, it can simply implement the relevant national forest act and mining regulations which are already exist.
But the question remains as to why the Mining Policy is pushed under the carpet? Is it because the strings of the kitty of the two parties in the MUA are now controlled by the coal mine owners and cement companies of the state? How else can one explain the incident in the august house when the Forest Minister threatens to shut down the Shillong Club for polluting Wards Lake while the same government remains silent about the pollution of rivers in Jaintia Hills? If the government is able to control and manage mining in the State it is not for the interest of Jaintia hills only. The district is a gone case anyway. For Jaintia hills the call is not to save the rivers but to reclaim the water bodies of the district again. The State Government should manage and control mining in the state for the sake of the new mining areas like the West Khasi Hills and Garo Hills Districts. The Government should try to save West Khasi and Garo Hills from the same fate that has befallen the Jaintia Hills.
The present Government should learn from the mistake of not regulating mining in Jaintia hills if it wants to save the water bodies of the other mining areas of the state. The government should regulate mining if the flagship programmes of the state are to succeed because if all the rivers are polluted neither the Meghalaya Aqua-culture Mission nor the Integrated Meghalaya Basin and Livelihood Development Programme will have any impact on the lives of the people.
The author is a research scholar and environmentalist and can be contacted at h.h.mohrmen @gmail.com