Monday, February 27, 2017

Semasi: A Village which Rediscover itself after mining ban

Semasi village which is under the Sumer Patorship of East Jaintia hills district has been in the news for about a decade till the NGT ordered an interim ban on coal mining in the state, but for all the wrong reason.  Semasi’s next door neighbour is Mynthning village which has been on the news for land dispute case which has reached the Supreme Court and it is also a stone throw away from Briwar which was famous for land grabbing cases which involves coal mine owners from other parts of East Jaintia hills, bureaucrats, politicians and even surrendered HNLC militants. Also since Jalaphet is still few kilometres away from these two conflict zones, Semasi was the nearest medium size village to these two mining hotspots.
Recent visit to this village is special because it happened three decades after my first trip to the area in 1987. My first visit was as a young high school grad when i took a temporary job of an enumerator to enrol new voters for the 1988 legislative Assembly election and i was assigned the villages in this area. Then the area was peaceful and the main livelihood activity of the people was farming and i remember when i reached Kseh the headman (in a jiffy) went to catch some fishes from Kupli river to treat me. There were still lots of fishes in the river Manar too and because i visited the area during winter i did not realized that the river is also good for white water rafting.
Although then mining has already begin in the Rymbai and Wapung area and Ladrymbai has already developed as a hub of business activity in the area, the villages from Jalaphet to the Ryngkoh khahnar  was occupied by farmers and in some villages local beer is available in abundance because almost every house has a unit for making ale. But now that has change, ‘the problem started when rich coal mine owners from Khliehriat, Ladrymbai, Sutnga and Wapung’ came to buy land in the area and that too at a throw away price said ma Gripbymon Dkhar. They turned our traditional land holding system topsy-turvy and overnight every community land was converted to private land and registered to enable the land owner s to sell the land to the coal mine owners for a song.
For about three decades Semasi became a thriving mining village with a small weekly market till April when NGT imposed the interim ban on mining in the state. But two years and ten months after the ban; the village wear different look. In my recent visit; i asked P. Manar one of the leaders in the village ‘what is his opinion about the interim ban on coal mining?’ and his answer was both quick and candid that ‘it was both a blessing and a curse.’ When i asked him to explain, he said it was a curse because like bolt from the blue; their livelihood was abruptly taken away from the people and it is a blessing because people started doing farming again but more importantly people are able to sleep peacefully every night and they enjoy hassle free day every day. Manar also added that during the heyday of coal mining migrant labourers from all over the places stayed in the area and they do not even know their antecedents, but now they have all disappeared.
We use to live in fear every day; and we spend sleepless nights fearing violence and conflict which can erupt anytime because of land grabbing cases he said. To understand how tense the situation was; i will just share with you the story of a visit to the area made by the journalist Sambhav Kumar who was then working on a story on mining in North East for Down to Earth. After working on the story for two days; Sambhav told me that he want to follow the land grabbing case at Mynthning and Semasi. I told him that it is very risky preposition and advised him to proceed to the area only if police give him protection because the stake is very high and every criminal element in the state were involved in land grabbing in both Semasi, Mynthning and Briwar area. Sure enough a gypsy full of police accompanied him to the area and he was able to complete his story which was carried by the magazine magazine (for which he won and international award).  
It is now almost three year after the ban and Semasi village is rediscovering itself again and this is all because of the resilience spirit in the people and one of them is a young man Amnesty Salahe. Because he was studying in Jowai; Amnesty was deputed for training by DCIC (District Commerce and Industries Centre) Jowai under the Apiculture mission of IBDLP (Integrated Basin Development & Livelihood Program) at COLKS in April 2016. On his return because he realized that this could be a new livelihood option for the people; he shared his newly-acquired knowledge with his fellow villagers and he started buying all the bees colonies from the villagers and his neighbourhoods. 
His best student was his father Gripbymmom Dkhar and the father –son partnership develops the trade and now they have a well equipped unit to add value to the honey with a brand of their own. They had spent fifty thousand rupees in buying 15 colonies of bees and all the equipments needed for a honey producing unit and they have a plan to expand the business.   
After the training Amnesty got his brother his cousin sister and their neighbours registered with Khliehriat EFC and they were also send for training on beekeeping and on their returned, they all started bees keeping but the story of his cousin sister is interesting.
His cousin’s father Jelwis Paslein of Semasi who was involved in coal business also got interested in the activity and he immediately acquired bee colonies at the rate of one thousand rupees per colony. He had even sent people to Assam to buy bee colonies and now he had more than 42 boxes of bees which he kept at three different locations in the Patorship.
Last winter; Jelwis produced 24 kilo gram of honey from 12 boxes and he hoped that he will harvest more this coming May-June season. Because he can afford it; Jelwis bee boxes are different because he also made steel stand to put the boxes and he spend more than eight thousand for each box. His future plan is to make a shed where he can keep the bee boxes to protect them from insects and vagaries of the nature. He planned to expand the business so; Jelwis has already ordered his contact in Assam to acquire more bee colonies for him.
Collectively all the seven household in Seamasi village who are actively involved in the activity have among them around 80 beehives. Jelwis Paslein said that he is willing to wait even for five years to reach breakeven point; but his only concern is a market to sell his products if and when they produce tons of honey from the area.  

Honey is one livelihood activity that the people are involved; farmers have started using their paddy fields for planting rice, and also start farming ginger and other vegetables in the area. Farmers who have land are also planting varieties of fruits trees in their orchards. The mining ban also compelled them to start tilling their land again and find that it is from these fields and gardens that they can harvest everlasting gold. Two and half years after the ban people in Semasi village rediscover themselves and realized that farming is the foundation of their lives. Also few villagers in Semasi also know that Krem Tyngheng located in the village which is 7,752 metres long (as on March 2006) is the seventh longest cave in India.