Joshimath in the making in Meghalaya

By Dr Barnes Mawrie

The recent news report on Uttarakhand presents a horrifying scene almost like one of the scenes from the movie “2012” where cities just caved in. The opening of the ground and the cracks of buildings in Joshimath and other towns of Uttarakhand, came as an unforeseen natural calamity to the people of that state. It looks like Uttarakhand is no longer an inhabitable place which should be abandoned altogether. Where will the people of the state go? That is the big question for the government. Property worth hundreds of crores just goes down the drain in a matter of few days. We sympathize with the suffering people of that state and we hope and pray that quick solutions will be found to ease the misery of those people.
However, study shows that the sinking of these towns is not a natural calamity but a man-made one. It seems that the extensive hydel projects that are going on there are to be blamed. There has been so much of dynamite bursting done on these places while constructing the dams. This definitely has a loosening and weakening effect on the surface and consequently the ground slowly gives way and what we witness today has been a chain effect of such anti-environmental activities. Experts also say that the obstruction of the natural flow of water and the unplanned construction of buildings have also added to the cause of such a calamity.
While we pity the people of Uttarakhand for such terrible events they are going through, we should not forget that our own people may one day suffer the same fate. Let me turn my attention here to Jaiñtia Hills especially East Jaiñtia District as well as Shallang area in West Khasi Hills, where massive unscientific coal mining has been going on for decades. Greed for money has led the coal barons to have recourse to rat-hole mining and other unscientific methods because they are less expensive. Yet they neither care about the damage they do to the land surface nor for the safety of the people living in the areas.
Many years ago, I had visited an underground coal mine in Germany and there the mining is done in a very scientific manner. After the coal is extracted, they pump water into the cavities and fill up all the tunnels and then they cover up the openings. In this way the ground water level is maintained and it protects the land from caving in. In another visit to an open coal mining in Germany, I witnessed how the machines scoop the brown coal and deposit the soil behind and the place is turned into a cultivable land. Such scientific methods unfortunately are not practiced in our state of Meghalaya. With all the tunnels and cavities underground left unfilled, there is an imminent danger of the entire area caving in. In some places in Jaiñtia Hills there are already sinking areas and some buildings are already experiencing cracks. Imagine if a strong earthquake takes place (which is bound to happen one day or the other as we are in the earthquake prone region) what would happen to all these places? Like those towns in Uttarakhand our towns located in these mining areas, will just cave in and what a damage to life and property that would mean.
It is an open secret that in spite of the ban on coal mining by the NGT, clandestine mining is still going on in these places. Trucks of coal are still being exported to other places and even to Bangladesh. There are powerful people behind the whole racket and money power plays a very decisive role in the whole affair. All the coal barons need not fear about these aftermaths because they all have mansions in Shillong and elsewhere where they can escape to. Who will be the poor victims? It is the poor people who have nowhere else to go but to continue living in those places. They are the ones who are bearing the brunt of these unscientific and illegal money-making activities. Today when even the sources for drinking water in these areas have mostly been poisoned. It is the poor who will get sick and die and not the coal barons because they can afford to buy bottled water. The vicious cycle will go on and in the turn of events the rich and powerful will always survive while the poor and the have-nots will perish.
It is time for the Hynñiewtrep people to get rid of this selfish and greedy attitude which is destroying our community from within and start reviving our humane and ethical code of living as handed down to us by our wise ancestors. We need urgently to revive the sense of solidarity and collective well-being. Mahatma Gandhi has rightly pointed out that “nature has enough for everyone’s need and not for anyone’s greed.” Let not greed destroy the very land on which we have lived for thousands of years because our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren still need it.
(The writer has authored the book, ‘Climate Change: A Theological-Moral Response.’ He can be reached at [email protected])

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