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MLA raises alarm over health hazards from coke oven plants

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Conrad refuses to portray coke units as villains

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG, Feb 23: The proliferation of coke plants in East Jaintia Hills and associated health issues was highlighted in the Assembly on Friday.
UDP’s Mowkaiaw MLA Nujorki Sungoh moved a zero-hour notice in the House based on a news item about a protest rally against coke plants at Nongsning and Umrasong.
Sungoh said that it was painful to see green forests turning into grey patches and that he would not be surprised if the number of patients with bronchial diseases and cancer increases in the district.
“No wonder we are referred to as the cancer capital,” the UDP legislator said.
Sungoh said five coke plants denied licenses by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) earlier were granted licenses and consent to establish (CTE). He added that the residents tried to protest out of fear of negative impact on water, land, and air.
The five coke plants are MM Minerals, Unique Industry (second chimney), Presidium Breez, Magic Coke, and Ioanis Industries Private Limited (second chimney).
According to Sungoh, MM Minerals and Presidium Breez paid a compensation of Rs 10,000 each to the MSPCB. However, Magic Coke paid only Rs 3.7 lakh out of a fine of Rs 19.9 lakh to the MSPCB.
“I was surprised to hear that all the cases against these five coke oven plants were withdrawn,” he said.
Asking the government to revoke all the CTEs issued to those units that flouted the rules, he said the government should come up with a policy for coke plants as directed by the High Court of Meghalaya and the Nation Green Tribunal (NGT), taking into account the safety and security of the citizens living near these plants.
Alleging that coke plants operating at night are not using filters, he said this process is against the condition set by the MSPCB. “As a consequence, residents of nearby villages are experiencing breathing difficulties,” Sungoh said.
In his response, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said Meghalaya will not be able to achieve economic growth and create adequate jobs if one keeps looking at coke plants or other industries only as villains.
Sangma said economic growth and job creation would be affected if industrial units were viewed as bad for the state. “This narrative must be changed. The government is concerned about the environment and is trying to maintain a very fine balance  between ecology and economy,” he added.
“It (coke plants) is part of different economic activities that could lead to health hazards and it is a fact throughout the world. But saying we are the cancer capital in the country because of industrial units is very far-fetched,” he said.
In the case of Presidium Breez, Sangma said the member-secretary and environmental engineers inspected the company’s plant on February 16 to ascertain the veracity of the complaint against it.
They found that certain conditions in the CTE were flouted and construction materials were being dumped in different locations, even in the water sources. A show-cause notice was subsequently issued on February 19, asking Presidium Breeze to stop all establishment and construction activities.
Sangma said he would call a meeting with members of the pollution control board and go through each point raised.

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