Thursday, June 20, 2024

MUA’s last gift for the state


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By HH Mohrmen

One of the most important benchmarks for judging the government is by the way it treats its environment, or what the government’s attitude towards saving the environment is. If this is the yardstick that one is to evaluate this government, then sad to mention that the MUA has failed miserably to protect and conserve the environment. In fact the government has only helped to speed up the process of destroying the environment by bringing the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy 2012 and then coming up with the new definition for forests.

It looks like the reason the government came up with the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals policy is but an effort to appease the honourable court which has repeatedly asked the government to come up with its own mining and mineral policy. The government was even fined several times by the court for its delay in coming up with the policy. Now the government can at least claim that it has finally passed the Meghalaya Mines and Mineral policy. But what kind of policy? Another reason for coming up with the policy is also to legitimize rat-hole mining of coal in the state. The deputy chief minister has categorically stated that rat-hole mining will be allowed to continue as usual. It is then obvious that the Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy has only helped legalize the mining method by using rat-hole mining system which was illegal till the policy was formulated. The deputy chief minister claimed that rat-hole mining of coal is customary practice of the people in the area, hence it should continue. But there are at least two immediate questions that beg for answers. How can one call coal mining a customary practice when coal was never part of the Khasi Pnar traditions? The Khasi and the Pnar have never used coal for cooking nor for heating purposes (except in the white/brown sahib’s bungalows). Neither has it been used even for smelting of iron for which the tribe is famous for. Therefore how can one call coal mining customary practice. Coal mining (at least in Jaintia hills) has only started when the British arrived in the region, and yet we call that a customary practice.

Currently the rat-hole mining system that is practiced in the Jaintia hills is by using machines and cranes. Hence it is no longer the same rat-hole mining that has been practiced since the early seventies when mining was started in the area. This fact was pointed to the minister in charge of mining during the stake holders’ meeting, yet the government is hell-bent in its decision to allow rat-hole mining to continue.

The mining and mineral policy legitimizes the same rat-hole mining system which is responsible for polluting almost all the rivers in Jaintia hills and rendered many arable lands unfit for cultivation anymore. It is the same unsystematic and unscientific mining which has killed all the animate being in the rivers and has made water in the rivers unfit even for human use. Yet the government is allowing rat-hole mining to continue. Until and unless the government bans rat-hole mining, any effort to reclaim and rejuvenate the rivers in Jaintia hills will remain futile. The mining and mineral policy of the government therefore is not going to help protect the environment or conserving nature if rat-hole mining is allowed to continue. The mining and minerals policy is only favouring rat-hole mining without consideration whatsoever to the damage that it has done to the environment.

The last nail in the coffin is when the government came up with a new definition to define forest. The Meghalaya Forest (Amendment) Bill 2012, defines that an area would be considered a forest if it is a compact or continuous tract of minimum four hectares of land, irrespective of ownership, where more than 250 natural growing trees or more than 100 natural growing bamboo clumps per hectares are present. Naba Bhattacharjee in his article “redefining forest to allow deliberate deforestation” (ST Dec 12 2012) has dealt at length with this vital issue. The definition has only made obvious what the people has feared for so long and that is the clever ploy by which the MUA government has allowed itself to be used by the mining lobby. Literarily, as per definition an area with forest cover which is less than 4 hectares is not considered as forest, hence all the forests in the state will be out of the purview of this definition because there are not many forests in the state which are more than 4 hectares.

If the government definition is taken literarily, then there will be no more forests in the state except for the reserve forest and national parks. Sacred forest will cease to be forest because most of the sacred forests are small in size and government will have to coin a new definition to describe them. Sacred forests particularly in the War Jaintia area where they are called ‘tken’ are very small is size hence by virtue of government’s new definition they will longer fall in the category of forests (khlaw). If they are not forests anymore than what do we call them then? Sacred what?

Recently, in the meeting with the stake holders the deputy chief minister did not even try to hide the fact that the government is speaking on behalf of the mining lobby. I told my friends that he sounded more like a spokesperson of the miners than a deputy chief minister of the state. In the meeting called by the government, the deputy chief minister even castigated the representatives of the mining lobby for not coming to the government’s rescue when there was bad press against the government in the issue relating to mining and the mining and mineral policy. It seems the government is not speaking the voice of the people of the state anymore but the voice of the fortunate few. Leaders in the government only remember to mention the people in the meetings for inauguration of government’s offices etc and the foundation stone laying ceremonies and because the election is approaching there are there are many more of those meetings now.

Dr. Mukul Sangma’s dreams of inaugurating the Shillong bypass in December in order to make it the MUA’s Christmas gift to the people of Meghalaya is now finally dashed to the ground. This is not going to happen at least this coming Christmas, but the government has inadvertently presented the people of the state with the final gift before the term of this current assembly ends. From the way the government has allowed ‘free for all mining and setting up of cement industries, it is obvious that the MUA is not concerned about sustainability. Sustainable mining it seems is not even in the government’s lexicon. How else can this government justify the setting up of more than eight cement plants in an area in the radius of less than five kilometres each? And how will the government explain its policy of allowing a free hand to mining companies to set up new industries in Jaintia hills in particular? Is it not enough? We do not even think about our children; they too will need mineral resources to drive their economy and if we exploit all the minerals, during our lifetime what kind of future will our children inherit? This government is allowing a free hand to whoever is interested in setting up a mining plant in the state if the companies can only produce environmental clearance from the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and procure no objection certificates from the traditional heads and the district council.

It is sad that the last gift that the MUA government’s present to the state, its people and the future generation is the policy which will only deplete nature ; a policy which is not even based on planned and sustainable extraction of minerals in the state. And the definition of forests that the government is proposing will only increase the momentum of rapid and random exploitation of minerals in the state without considering about the future of the state. The definition which in one stroke defines all the forests we know as non-forests because they fall short of the specification of 4 hectares is the last nail in the coffin. The state and its people are at the receiving end of the stick and they are not going to benefit either from the policy or the definition. What a gift from our government to its people! Wishing you all a merry Christmas!


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