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NGO petitions Centre for uranium mining in state

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Ready to die but will not allow project to restart: KSU

SHILLONG, March 8: The uranium mining issue has resurfaced in Meghalaya after the North East Sunshine Trust (NEST), an NGO, petitioned Union Minister of State in charge of Department of Atomic Energy, Jitendra Singh seeking the resumption of uranium mining operations in the state.
The KSU made it clear that they will die fighting but not yield to any pressure from the Centre for uranium mining in the state.
Elizabeth Matthews Nongbri, the founder-trustee and chairperson of the Lad Nongkrem-based NEST sent the petition through Arjun Kumar, the minister’s PA on February 26.
“As you are aware, the Government of India surveys indicated vast deposits of uranium in the West Khasi Hills district. Exploratory efforts to mine this extremely valuable and precious resource 17 years ago could not succeed due to vested interests stonewalling the efforts by building up adverse public opinion against the venture,” she said in her petition.
Stating that the UCIL was forced to shut down its office in Shillong, Nongbri said the 2009 agreement between the Centre and the state to permit the lease of land in West Khasi Hills for pre-mining activities was cancelled in 2016.
She said that the estimated quantity of the deposits is vast, adding up to enormous commercial value.
Nongbri observed that while other states like Jharkhand have been able to benefit from much smaller deposits in their area, Meghalaya is unable to benefit from such enormous quantity of natural resource.
She said that the NGO with its grassroots contacts and expertise available would be in a position to make this a workable proposition.
“We have the necessary wherewithal in terms of engagement with the local people, the ability to convince them about the vast benefits accruing to the region, and the prospects of a vastly improved lifestyle in case of relocation,” the NEST chairperson said.
She claimed her team has prepared a detailed project report on restarting the uranium mining project in Meghalaya.
Stressing on the importance of grassroots organisations, she said the plan proposes their empowerment as a counterbalance to existing opposing organisations.
“Initiatives include recognition, capacity building, and inclusion in decision-making, fostering dialogue, and building trust. Integrated seamlessly into the existing action plan, this addition contributes to community representation and collaborative decision making outline plan and financial implication,” Nongbri said.
She further said the interactions at the grassroots level indicate  that a favourable environment to recommence the activities could be created, provided that some members of NEST are involved in decision making in UCIL.
“Some members of the local communities, who have formerly served with the state Soil & Water Conservation Department, are now part of our team. They would be instrumental in generating a favourable public opinion for restarting the project. They have requested for a formal facilitation of a visit to UCIL’s ongoing mining projects in Jharkhand, in order to be able to prepare a credible case for garnering sufficient public support,” Nongbri said.
“The economic benefits accruing to the rural population from resumption of this activity will bring enormous benefits to them. Besides, the valuable natural resource will greatly assist the vision of the Prime Minister in actualizing Viksit Bharat,” she added.
In the petition, she mentioned that she has held important posts in the BJP Minority Morcha and also as a national executive member.
“I have held a number of meetings with church elders in Meghalaya and Mizoram to dispel the incorrect impression that the BJP is mainly a hardcore Hindutva party which does not facilitate inclusive growth. It was very satisfying to note that my meetings and the letters distributed by me have been greatly appreciated by the Christian community,” Nongbri said.
The KSU, however, reiterated its opposition to an “outsider” speaking on behalf of the people of South West and West Khasi Hills.
“That person (Nongbri) does not live in Meghalaya. She is settled somewhere else. She does not know the impact of uranium mining and the local sentiments. All that she and her group want is to impress the central government,” KSU general secretary Donald V Thabah told The Shillong Times.
“She mentioned in a statement that uranium mining was blocked due to certain vested interest. It seems she is blaming groups and the public opposing it. It appears she is the one with vested interest,” he said.
“What is her profit from uranium mining? Why does she badly want to mine uranium without consulting the stakeholders? She should do that first if she considers herself a responsible citizen,” Thabah said.
Stating that uranium mining is hazardous for health and environment, he said the KSU has been opposing it since the 1990s and will continue its tirade.
Citing numerous instances of the ill effects of uranium mining in India and beyond, Thabah said, “We don’t want such things to happen to our people in South West Khasi Hills. During the exploratory mining of UCIL, we saw fish and cattle deaths. There are cases of deformities among children in Domiasiat and adjoining villages.
“Taking these into account, we decided that we will oppose uranium mining tooth and nail. We will oppose it even if the Government of India uses forces. We are ready to die fighting. That is the KSU’s commitment,” he asserted.
Recalling the previous MUA government’s assurance that uranium will not be mined in the state, Thabah said the KSU wants this to be taken into account.

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