Thursday, April 25, 2024

Environment orphaned


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Candidates for the Lok Sabha election are silent on the environment. Granted that the environment is not a sexy issue as it would willy-nilly arrive at the illegal coal mining saga which no politician is brave enough to tackle. The standard argument has been that mining is a livelihood for the tribals. This much-touted statement is made with no evidence to back up the claims. Looking at news reports, these days there appears to be a greater concern by the youth about saving the environment and rivers in particular. Greentech Foundation has been trying to clean rivers from West Khasi Hills to the Wah Umkhrah. A video clip shown at an environment awareness campaign in Riwar College, Pynursla where a boat fitted with machinery to churn out and pick the garbage from the Umiam Lake created quite a stir among students watching it. They didn’t realise that the serene looking lake, which is quite an attractive backdrop where tourists love to click pictures, carries loads of junk, particularly plastic waste inside it. The Umiam Lake has been known to be afflicted by severe siltation but nothing has been done so far as a remedial measure. It is unsure how the turbines generating hydel power are able to deal with the water that is loaded with silt and other rubbish. This is the reason perhaps why the MeECL has to rely heavily on power from external sources.
The North Shillong MLA has been clamouring that the residents of his constituency are suffering from severe water crises. But that is not the only area suffering from water shortage. Across Shillong city people are resigned to buying water from tankers. What no one asks is how the tankers are able to supply water by the thousands of litres daily and what is their source. There is a section of tribal elite that have made it their business to sell water. In connivance with the Rangbah Shnong an entire catchment is sold out to an individual, despite the fact that a primary distinguishing feature differentiating tribals from others is their collective ownership of natural resources such as forests, water sources, catchments areas and rivers. Today while rivers are still unclaimed by private individuals a time will come when that too might happen through rapid encroachment into rivers and narrowing them down to the size of large drains.
The District Councils have failed miserably in safeguarding these natural resources of the tribal polity which is the primary reason for their existence. Councils are not meant to create idle resources such as restaurants and resorts which they have invested in, in recent times. Clearly the District Councils have lost their way in this 21st century when they are most needed to battle the forces of commercialisation and commodification of land and natural resources. MP candidates especially from elite universities are expected to go beyond the rhetoric that marks elections and to go deeper into issues that are skirted by state politicians. Is this too much to expect?


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