WHITHER LIFE AFTER COAL?
By Barnes Mawrie
We all know that natural resources are limited and they get exhausted after a period of time. Wise nations that perceive this reality have already contemplated plan B or plan C. One fine example of such countries is Saudi Arabia, a rich oil producing country. The Saudi government, perceiving that oil is not going to last forever, has already launched itself into plan B. They are investing hugely on promoting tourism as an alternative source of national income. At present there are 23 new tourism projects being implemented by the government which will cost a whopping 4.6 billion US dollars. The country is already known for some of the tourist landmarks like the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa and the spectacular palm island tourist resort etc. Another Gulf country, Qatar is on the same trajectory. The recent World Cup Tournament held in that country has gone a long way in boosting tourism in the region. Think of other countries like France, USA, Italy, Spain, China etc, that have already established themselves as predilected destinations for tourists from all over the world. These countries’ economies would not suffer drastically even if their natural resources run dry or if their industries stop thriving. The flow of tourists to these countries would ensure that their economies would continue to thrive. Saudi Arabia tops the list with 93.5 million in 2022, followed by France with 82.6 million tourists annually, USA with 75.6 million, Spain with 75.6 million, China with 59.3 million and Italy with 52.4 million. All this indicates that the leaders of these countries are able to see into the remote future and are well prepared to meet with any eventuality.
When we turn to our state of Meghalaya, it is sad to say that we are ill prepared for future eventualities. We do not seem to have any plan B when it comes to futuristic planning. In a state where natural resources are the monopoly of private players, the government alone of course is not to be blamed, but the rich class who own the mines are the actual culprits. Let us take Jaintia Hills for example which is an area rich in coal deposits. Do the coal mines owners ever think that one day this natural resource is going to get exhausted and are they prepared for the aftermath? As things stand today there is no such progressive thinking but only selfish grabbing. What is going to happen in Jaintia Hills after the coal deposits are over, will be a vast wasteland unfit for human settlement or for cultivation.
There is a lot of selfishness and ego-centric attitude on the part of the rich coal businessmen. Most of these rich families have already bought numerous plots of land in and around Shillong and elsewhere outside the state. In the New Shillong region of Mawdiang-diang and Mawkasiang the rich coal business families have bought up a lot of land and many mansions are coming up. I am not opposed to their buying land or building mansions in these places, but what I want to emphasize here is their lack of sensitivity to collective welfare. The question I would pose before them is – what are they doing about the post-coal Jaintia Hills? We all know that the majority of Pnar people living in Jaintia Hills are poor farmers or daily wagers. Due to the growing poisoning of fields and rivers caused by the unscientific coal mining, even farming has been adversely affected. What will happen to these poor families once coal mining has come to an end since many of them are also employed in the coal business?
It is evident that the rich coal magnates are not concerned about the future life of their fellow citizens. With all the money power that they possess, these rich citizens could have turned Jaintia Hills into a tourist destination or even an educational hub of the region. But unfortunately, nothing of the sort is happening till today. They continue to invest in their personal selfish projects and that too away from their own place. The lack of vision from the part of the government and lack of patriotism from the part of the rich coal businessmen is going to jeopardize the future life of the poor masses. How will these poor families fend for themselves after the coal era has come to a close when their land has been ravaged beyond recovery?
Jaintia Hills is endowed with exquisite natural beauty and could be transformed into a tourist haven. There are locations of great scenic beauty, ravishing cascades, mesmerizing valleys and hills, pristine rivers as well as unexplored caves. What is lacking however in these tourist locations are the adequate infrastructure and facilities. Good roads and communication, affordable hotels and restaurants, children’s parks, adventure sports, eateries and shops catering to different needs of visitors etc., are what is expected in a standard tourist spot. The government along with the willing investment of these rich coal businessmen could definitely create such facilities. That would be a win-win formula both for the rich and the poor of Jaintia Hills, the rich businessmen would have created an alternative means of income generation and the poor would have other ways of earning their livelihoods.
On the other hand, Jaintia Hills is also famous for the Lakadong turmeric which is considered the best variety of turmeric. The government should help farmers in this region to go for mass cultivation of this turmeric so that it could be supplied to other parts of India and even exported abroad. So far, this valuable source of income for the state and for the people as well, has not been adequately exploited. Besides this, it is sad to see that neither the government nor the rich local businessmen have given a thought to creating industries to process this agricultural produce. We are all aware that turmeric could be used to produce a variety of beauty products, medicinal products as well as for culinary purposes. With a bigger tourism thrust there would be a large market for such local products. I hope that the tourism department would organize an annual Lakadong Turmeric Festival in order to showcase to the world this wonderful produce of our land.
Let me conclude by emphasizing that tourism, especially eco-tourism, is the only alternative means of ensuring the livelihood of the poor people in Jaintia Hills and for that matter of the whole state. With the rising temperature in most parts of India, Meghalaya with its cooler climate is going to be a preferred tourist destination. This means that the state can reap rich dividends from this industry. However, there should be drastic improvement of tourism infrastructure so as to retain the flow of tourists to our state. We hope to see our rich coal businessmen come forward to capitalize on this God-given opportunity to make tourism in Jaintia Hills at par with any tourist destination in the world and thus ensure that poor people do not suffer even after coal production has ceased. Let me conclude by reminding everyone that “coal is never a sustainable source of development, but tourism always is. Coal is environmentally destructive while tourism is environmentally uplifting.”
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