How two NH construction companies are killing two rivers in South Garo Hills


Rongara, April 13: Going to the village of Rongara, close to the border of Bangladesh and one of the best sites for eco tourism, is an absolute hassle. The under construction road between Baghmara and Ranikor, at a cost of close to Rs 1000 crores, has made travel extremely difficult before things turn better. However the entire construction will now fall under the scanner after it was found that the companies involved in the road construction have been involved in all forms of illegalities in their bid to complete the road.

What is shocking in all aspects is the fact that these two companies, NSC and Nidhi Construction, without any formal permission from any department or even the district administration has been killing two rivers, both in the buffer zones of the Balpakram National Park (BNP), with one near the border village of Rongara and another below the second highest peak in the Garo Hills region, the Chitmang peak, Gonggrot.

The National Highway Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NHIDCL) interestingly has remained a silent spectator despite the fact the illegalities were taking place under its very nose, along with the rest of Rongara – Siju allowing the companies to flex their muscle and ensure their work was not impeded.

The first complaint on the illegal extraction from the river bed came close to a year ago through an NGO from Rongara under SGH but despite the gravity of the issue the company was not stopped. Interestingly everyone seems to be aware of what was transpiring but refused to act despite the gravity of what was transpiring.

Having heard of such illegal acts continuing with impunity since almost two years, I felt the need to find out what exactly was taking place and why a government, tasked with safeguarding the way of life of the people of Garo Hills had suddenly turned face.

Leaving Tura at about 6:30 AM, I was delayed by a wooden bridge on the Border Road near Dalu due to one of the wooden bridges developing a snag. Turning back, I went through the traditional route before reaching Sibbari where a social activist friend NGO, Tengrak Sangma waited. He took over control of the car as we headed to Rongara, at least 65 kms from from Sibbari.

While the travel through the border road was palatable, the situation became difficult once we hit the under construction Baghmara – Ranikor road. We managed to reach Rongara by about 12:30 PM before once again setting off for Taidang, about 6-7 kms along the Rongdi River, the water body under threat due to the illegal sand gravel mining by NSC.

Stark pictures awaited us along the way as intensive and extensive mining had literally brought the river down to a trickle from the once healthy water body that it was. The river, as per locals, originates from the BNP and continues through into Bangladesh where it meets the mighty Brahmaputra.

Huge pools had developed all along the river bed showing the wanton extraction of sand as well as gravel. In fact, the road on which we travelled was created only for the purpose of mining sand gravel from the river bed, more than six kms of which was proof of the destruction that has already been caused.

Moreover the road in question – Baghmara – Ranikor, has seen most metalling works done in most sections. Searching for proof, we moved through before coming up on a returning dumper carrying sand gravel. When we questioned the driver, he said they had been ordered to carry the sand gravel from the river by the company. Earlier stones from the river bed had also been carried.

Leaving the dumper behind, we pushed further to the place from where the excavators were helping extract sand into the dumpers and after some damage to the car we were in, managed to reach the site. At least 3 more dumpers, along with an excavator were at the site. When we asked as to who provided permission to do so, he pointed at another person, a few metres away, taking a bath, who he called ‘Ustad’.

Ustad informed that the Nokma of the area had provided them the requisite permission to carry sand gravel to complete the road and one of his people were at the site to make a note of the number of dumpers that carried the stuff – possibly for the sake of financial consolidation at the end of the day, week or month.

Having found proof of what was happening we once again returned to Rongara before proceeding towards Baghmara to stop for the night. On the return journey, we found the same company had literally made a small hill of the sand gravel that was extracted from the river. The river itself has now been reduced to a trickle while the ponds may last a few months before they dry up.

“The way the company has dug up the river bed is crazy. The river has had to change course many times just to flow. How can anyone be so insensitive about the environment especially a company that is supposed to construct a national highway? This act of theirs requires answers from everyone,” felt Tengrak.

He stated that the sad part was that everyone was just turning a blind eye to the entire destruction even at a time when water crisis is happening everywhere.

In Baghmara, another concerned resident pointed us to another place where Nidhi Construction, another company with the same road contract has ravaged another river, Rongreng, and this one was just below the Chitmang peak, Gonggrot.

We reached the place the next morning to see similar scenes of destruction though the extent looked a lot worse. Even while we were on the way, at least 5 dumper trucks carrying illegal sand gravel were seen with another few lined up. Locals informed at least 20 such trucks did duty every day.

Nidhi Construction’s camp near the JNV near Baghmara showed hills of the illegally extracted sand and gravel within its compound.

Interestingly a complaint had been made by one of the local civil society bodies about illegal sand extraction, after which the thought was that the same exercise may have been stopped. However, to our surprise, the same illegal extraction and destruction of the rivers has continued unabated. In fact, the extent may have even gone up further.

Upon asking the DFO of SGH, Maxborn Sangma as to what action had been taken against the company, he informed that following the complaint last year, an inquiry had been done and the materials were compounded. The company got off with a fine but there were no further complaints by anyone.

Monitoring of the road project is undertaken by the NHIDCL, a central agency. Their silence on the matter has now raised grave concerns.

“How can a central agency condone such wanton acts of environment destruction? These people have taken such short cuts that it could destroy the fragile nature of the local environment. The NHIDCL should have put its foot down and directed the two companies to seek viable alternatives,” felt Tengrak.

Forest officials also confirmed that no permissions had been sought by the companies for the set up of a stone quarry as well, raising question of its origin. The two companies, as per sources, have not imported stones from outside the region.

While many residents expressed surprise over what has happened, many expressed their concern, feeling that stopping the two could lead to non completion of their road – a much needed respite.

However, if one were to look at the case in isolation, the fact that such wanton acts of destruction were completely ignored by the authorities raises a big question in itself.

Firstly it was the duty of the NHIDCL to question the company on the material sources and how they were procured. It was only after a visit was paid to the site by this journalist and Tengrak did the well oiled machine really break down.

“To think that they have been circumventing the law in the implementation of a central project beggars belief on the part of the administration from the state. Further the NGOs who raised the issue initially need to also be questioned as to why they allowed the destruction of their own water sources when the same destruction continued. What do we say about the PWD or any other agencies meant to monitor the road construction and to see that it is within the legal ambit – the lesser said the better,” said a local resident of Rongara.

As per sources, both the companies do not have any legal stone quarries or places from where legal sand or sand gravel can be extracted despite which almost 60% of the metal work on the road has already been completed.

When contacted the GM of NHIDCL, Biswajit Dutta, who recently joined the road construction efforts along Baghmara – Ranikor road said that a notice has been sent to the two companies today, Apr 17 by the PWD that was forwarded from them to seek an explanation on the source of the materials used. An answer is awaited from the companies involved.

Interestingly no one, including the local representative, the various departments concerned or the NHIDCL have any concrete answers as to why the spectre of illegality has been allowed to continue for so long.

“Imagine the CM holding a high level meeting to save the rivers of Shillong while the rivers of Garo Hills have been laid waste by greedy businessmen in cahoots with MLAs and the administration. The reactions cannot be more stark,” added Tengrak.

The local representative and state education minister, Rakkam Sangma stated that he had no idea that this was taking place and would inquire into the matter with immediate effect.

Another resident felt that the recent floods that washed away the bridge at Rongara during the floods last year could have been due to the mining in the Rongdi river as it narrowed down the area through which the river could flow.

“Earlier there was an even flow due to the river running its natural course but due to the mining on the bed, the river has very places through which it can flow and this led to things going out of hand,” said the resident on condition of anonymity.