Taking the environment for granted

Meghalaya is witnessing serious depletion of water sources as a result of deforestation, mining activities, quarrying and sand banking. The fact that two major rivers of Jaintia Hills the Lukha and Lunar are now toxic should have made all stakeholders – citizens, government bodies, traditional institutions, the Autonomous Councils etc to sit up and take notice. But that has not happened yet. Each time shoals of fish die in some river on account of toxins that leach into the waters either from coal mines or pesticides there is a media splash and strong words of condemnation from NGOs. But this outcry is not sustained, thereby allowing the polluters to get away unpunished.

Water is a scarce resource but the people of Meghalaya don’t seem to recognize this. A two-day retreat on ‘Water’ organized by the Meghalaya Water Foundation (MWF) is an eye opener to many who have come from outside Meghalaya to understand the situation here. One would have thought that with so many agencies and authorities asserting their influence over water and its management, there would be no problems in regulating the way water is sourced, distributed and used by citizens. But the reality is something else. The District Councils are mandated to keep vigil over rivers, catchments and waterways. In a sense they are custodians acting behalf of the people who elected them to keep a close watch on polluters and individuals or clans who lay claim over this scarce community resource. In tribal societies natural resources are collectively owned. Hence the community should have exercised greater control over these resources. But perhaps the sense of community is fast eroding and we are as good or as bad as individuals who claim no uniqueness or indigeneity but who live the lives of ordinary citizens in a modernized setting. Perhaps our inability to see this reality as it is has made us repose faith in outdated institutions claiming their antecedents from a glorious past and with a inflated sense of importance about themselves but with no accountability to anyone.

A clear water governance protocol is required in Meghalaya and the MWF should push for that the sooner the better. We need a single window agency to look at water management and conservation.

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