Monday, March 4, 2024

Assam’s limestone mining plan threatens EJH caves


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SHILLONG, Feb 11: Assam’s Dima Hasao district bordering Meghalaya is set for limestone mining.
The Assam government recently issued an advertisement for bidding for an iron ore and seven limestone blocks in the state.
Limestone mining is conducted using the blasting technology which poses a serious threat to the environment. All seven limestone blocks are reportedly in Dima Hasao and the Kopili River, the district’s lifeline, meanders through them.
The pollution caused by limestone mining and its downstream activities are questions that have reportedly not been addressed by the Assam government.
What is worrying for Meghalaya is that the advertised limestone blocks adjoin the natural caves of ecological importance within Meghalaya. The blasting during the mining operations and the dust during the operations of cement manufacturing will impact these caves notified by the government of India as being ecologically sensitive.
These caves also attract foreign tourists and speleologists.
Since the inception of the auctioning of mineral blocks, no state government has announced blocks in such large numbers from one particular district or region. A stage for a bigger catastrophe is being set, Meghalaya-based environmentalists said.
According to information on the Parivesh portal of the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Ka Krem Labit Umkyrpong community reserve – one of many – is about 200 metres from a limestone Block on the other side of the Kopili River in Meghalaya.
Community reserves are protected areas that act as buffer zones to or are connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved and protected forests.
On March 9, 2020, the Meghalaya government under Section 36C of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 declared 64 private and community land/forests as community reserves which are not included within a national park or wildlife sanctuary to increase the areas under protected networks for protecting flora, fauna, and traditional or cultural conservation values and practices. These will also provide a refuge and safe path for animals in search of food.
Krem Labit Umkyrpong in East Jaintia Hills with an area of 4.80 hectares was notified by the Meghalaya government on March 9, 2020, as one of the community reserves.
Apart from Krem Labit Umkyrpong, the longest natural cave in Asia with an explored length of 30,957 metres will be affected. Called Krem Liat Prah, this cave is about 8 km from the limestone blocks while Krem Tynheng is about 5 km away in Samasi village.
These are also areas where the Amur falcons come to roost on their way from Siberia to Africa.
At one time, the Dima Hasao Students’ Union filed a petition in the Supreme Court to stop coal mining in East Jaintia Hills as it was polluting their rivers and the water had become toxic. It remains to be seen if this union raises a red flag over the destructive limestone mining plan of the Assam government.
Meanwhile, the JHADC said it is unaware of the move to auction limestone and iron ore blocks in Assam.
A senior JHADC official said on Sunday that the council will summon the Waheh of Elaka Sumer to find out if he is aware of the development.
The official said the land of the Krem Labit Umkyrpong Community Reserve has been registered with the council.
“We will request the state government to raise this matter with Assam and oppose the proposal for major limestone mining, which will have a major impact on the natural caves,” he said.
The JHADC’s Chief Executive Member, Thombor Shiwat was not available for comment.


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