Oil palm will ruin NE: Agatha to PM

NEW DELHI, Aug 27: Tura MP Agatha Sangma has shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposing the Centre’s push for mega oil palm cultivation in Meghalaya.
The planned oil palm farming will jeopardise the biodiversity hotspots in the Northeast by destroying its original forest belonging to local tribes and creating serious ethnic strife, she wrote.
The letter followed reports that the ruling National People’s Party, especially Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma, supports the oil palm project despite grave environmental concerns.
“Concern is generated when one peeks into the finer details of the programme. The plantation areas selected are the north-eastern region and the Andaman Islands both of which are biodiversity hotspots and ecologically fragile,” Agatha said in her letter.
Oil palm plantation in all certainty will denude vast swathes of land of its forest cover. Loss of habitat for the endangered wildlife will have a devastating impact, she pointed out. The palm tree is also not endemic to the North East and large-scale adoption of a foreign species of plant entailing water-intensive harvest will cause irreparable ecological imbalance besides depleting the groundwater table, the NPP Member of Lok Sabha said.
Agatha said the other concern is of socio-cultural issues as the North East, although sparsely populated than the rest of India, is dotted with many ethnic tribes with their own cultural heritage and practices. Ownership of land is a centrality of any tribal society, which is also connected to the identity and there is community ownership in many cases, she said.
“Widespread plantation for commercial gain in all possibility will detach the tribesman from his prized possession of land and wreak havoc on the social fabric,” the former Union Minister said.
Agatha is an environmentalist with a Masters’ degree in Environment from Nottingham University in the United Kingdom.
The Union Cabinet had cleared a plan under the aegis of NMEO-OP (National Mission on Edible Oil – Oil Palm) and allocated Rs 11,040 crore ostensibly to reduce the import of edible oil and downsize the import bill.
“I, therefore, register my opposition to the unilateral imposition of the NMEO-OP programme on the people of the North East region and request you to kindly have a wider consultation with all stakeholders before moving forward with this decision,” she said.

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