MDA and mining: A case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing

By H H Mohrmen

The Honourable Chief Minister is open about his commitment to protect the environment, but the recent developments which have occurred in different parts of the state make one question if the Chief Minister and the MDA government are on the same page when it comes to protecting the Environment. If the recent developments in the state with regards to environment are any indication then what had happened is like giving flesh and bones to the saying that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It looks like the Office of the Chief Minister is unaware of what the other departments in the State are doing because while he pledged to protect the environment, his colleagues in the Government are doing just the opposite.

The Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board had announced the date for conducting a public hearing on the Cement Manufacturing Company Ltd, commonly known as Star Cement’s application to avail a mining lease for starting another limestone mining unit near the village under the Narpuh eleka call Brichyrnot. It is sheer coincidence that we had visited Brichyrnot and the entire stretch of the river Lukha from Sunapyrdi to Khaddum, few months after it was first reported about the unnatural mass death of fishes which also changed the colour of the water in river Lukha into a bluish hue. It was obvious from the survey mark that the land in the area was already acquired and in fact most of the land in the entire eleka Narpuh is no longer owned by the locals.

The proposed mining site at Brichyrnot is located near the eco- sensitive zone and the Narpuh Wild Life Sanctuary and if permission for mining is given to the applicants then it will definitely have an adverse impact on the wildlife in the sanctuary. It may be mentioned that a study had been done on the presence of wildlife in the sanctuary and it was found that the forest still has rich biodiversity which includes hundreds of birds, butterflies and animals. It is also worth mentioning that the Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary is the only sanctuary in both East and West Jaiñtia hills District and one of the few sanctuaries that we have in the entire state. Studies have found that there are considerable numbers of hillock gibbons in the forests which serve as a storehouse of fresh water for people who live in the area around the forest. (Youtube video ‘Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary- Saving the Last refuge.’)

Using of heavy machinery and even explosives by the mining companies will have adverse impact on the wildlife because the area is located in a very close proximity to the Wildlife Sanctuary. Besides the proposed mining area is also located near the river Lukha and this will have a devastating impact on the already fragile ecology of the river. In fact the cement company which owns Star Cement or the Jaintia Hills Cement Manufacturers’ Association (JHCMA) should have used their CSR and initiated the process of reclaiming the river Lukha  – the pollution of which was also caused by cement production. But instead they want to finish Lukha once and for all! The moot question is: what is the Jaiñtia Hills Autonomous District Council doing here when it is supposed to protect the rivers as empowered by the Sixth Schedule?

It is also saddening to note that while young people in the area have already started promoting tourism with a hope of creating sustainable employment and improving the economy of the area, the fate of their venture now will depend on the outcome of the hearing. If the Government allows the company to go ahead with mining in the area, then this endeavour and hope of the youths in the area will be dashed to the ground.

It is amusing to note that the people of eleka Narpuh hear about Meghalaya Pollution Control Board only when there is a hearing for mining leases. The question therefore is whether the Board has  any records of the quality of air and water in the region. Has the Board installed any instrument to record the ambient air quality in the area? The fact that there are already 8 cement plants in the area namely Green valley, Amrit, JUD, Goldstone, Hills cement, Star Cement, Topcem and Dalmia formerly known as Adhunik  has already had adverse impacts on the environment and the life of the people in the area.

Since this matter is also related to wildlife, the other important question is – what about the State Wildlife Board? Has the MDA government even constituted the Board? The Chief Minister by virtue of office is the Chair of the State Wildlife Board but if the Board is not yet constituted then the blame should also be on the Chief Minister himself.

CMCL or Start Cement apart from having its own plant at Lumchnong and its own captive power plant, also has another plant in Assam and is using clinkers from Lumchnong to produce cement from the plant in Assam. The next pertinent question that is being asked is about the numbers of local people employed by these cement plants. What is the percentage of locals employed in the different cement plants? Do the companies adhere to the agreement to engage seventy percent of the local workforce in the plants? It is an open secret that companies appoint non-locals to all the plum posts in all the cement plants in the Narpuh area and locals are only appointed to middle ranks and some for clerical jobs.

It may also be mentioned that none of the cement companies have any regional offices either in Khliehriat or even in Shillong and the corporate offices of all the cement companies are located outside the state. Then what about the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds? Where are they deployed? It will be interesting to know how and where these companies have expended their CSR. It is also not clear how the different companies use their CSR because many a time they use the umbrella organisation of the different cement companies known as the Jaintia Hills Cement Manufacture Association (JHCMA) to support local causes.

Limestone mining in Nongtalang is also a case where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing because while Wildlife Wing of the State Forest Department is gung-ho in its efforts to protect wildlife and conserve the environment, the Territorial department of the same forest department is looking the other way when limestone is being mined in the area in a random manner and without any consideration for the environment.  One can say the same thing about coal mining and transport of the same from the State. Coal mining has already started even before the Government could come up with the mining plan and the same is being transported every night from the coal mining areas. A visit to areas like Phramer on the Shangpung road or Shkentalang in the Jowai-Amlarem road will reveal that coal stocks have started to appear where none existed before.

Coal laden trucks continue to transport coal from the coal mining areas almost every night in the guise of cement or clinker laden trucks. Covered with tarpaulin, the trucks transport coal regularly. We may also be reminded of a news report that the Ri Bhoi Youth Federation (RBYF) caught some coal laden trucks red handed while carrying coal in the Ri Bhoi district. It seems that not only the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing in the MDA government but there are two power centres at work in the government. How this will pan out will also reveal the fate of this blighted state.

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