Monday, May 27, 2024

Environment: No one’s baby -Meghalaya stares at a bleak future


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By Patricia Mukhim

The drum-beating and competition of who loves the jaitbynriew more is now over. In the month-long campaign for the Lok Sabha election not a single political party expressed any concern for the environment which is deteriorating by the day and all because of human activities caused by human greed and the absence of environmental governance. Sometimes one wonders what the Department of Environment and Forests actually does to conserve even the 4% of forests under its watch. Travel to any part of Meghalaya and you are greeted by trees being cut. During this season particularly, whole villages will cut down trees for firewood to last them a whole year. They however don’t ever think of ever replacing one cut tree by planting another in its place. Their argument is that trees, especially pine will regenerate on their own. But even if they do grow back there is a cycle to their growth and if the rate of cutting down trees far exceeds their growing capacity then what we have is run-off of the top soil – a phenomenon common to Sohra where barren landscapes greet you.
What is worse however is the rampant quarrying that is creeping into hitherto virgin areas such as Mawkynrew and all the way to Syntung. The heavy trucks carrying boulders and sand have taken a toll on the road condition which is already sub-standard and constructed to last only one season. People see all this and they know that a few from among them are making a killing out of the quarrying and that the Dorbar Shnong has a hand in granting permission but they have been conditioned to look at themselves as powerless victims. Now let us see who are the actors in this environmental assault who are actually elected/selected to look after the greater good of the many and not assist in the personal wealth acquisition projects of a few. They are (1) the Government (both state and central) (2) the District Councils (3) the Dorbar Shnong (4) The Public
Role of the Government: The Government through the Department of Environment and Forests is supposed to enforce the rules that are intended to protect the environment. But there is scant concern shown to the rampant deforestation even inside reserved forests. What’s the point of those forest guards who are paid a salary? How many forest bandits have been arrested so far? Far from it. On the contrary even the reserved forests particularly in Garo Hills are being raided and trees felled and sold regularly without any fear of the law. Other than conserving forests the Department of Environment & Forests also has a bounden duty to protect rivers since they are a critical eco-system of that environment which is all encompassing. But look at the state of our rivers today! They are in the worst mess we can think of. Those who don’t see the state of the rivers are happy in their little artificial worlds. This writer belongs to the group Operation Clean-Up which has been consistently cleaning the Urkaliar River near Nongmynsong every fortnight since 2019. Each time we enter the River we are greeted by mountains of garbage. There’s no improvement at all and no one cares.
Role of the District Council: The District Councils are supposed to conserve our lands and forests and not just the customary practices. What is the point of the so-called ‘tradition’ when the forests which are an integral part of that tradition and worship for the indigenous people are all but cleared off. The 10-year ban on tree felling from 1996-2006 imposed by the Supreme Court saw the forests of Meghalaya get a breather but now they are in a sorry state once the ban was lifted. Perhaps someone needs to take the case of Meghalaya to the Supreme Court since the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seems to have failed miserably or allowed to fail. The District Councils have done precious little on anything to do with the environment, perhaps because they are more inclined to grant mining and quarrying permission on the plea that these are livelihoods. Do you create livelihoods by destroying the earth and poisoning even the air we breathe in because carbon dioxide can no longer be sequestered? The KHADC has seen the state of the rivers in Shillong city but has not lifted a finger to ensure that the shnongs which fall under their jurisdiction pull up their socks. Sometimes you are left to wonder as to the role of the ADCs and whether they have become an institution that is past its date.
The Dorbar Shnong: These are institutions that glorify tradition because it allows them the license to do whatever they want. These institutions function arbitrarily with each shnong having its own set of rules. You wonder what happened to the Village Administration Act. Since each shnong functions according to its own set of rules it is a laissez faire existence. They can grant quarrying and mining rights to whosoever pays them. They wield authority but don’t demonstrate any responsibility at all. There are individuals who are self-appointed Rangbah Shnong functioning without any Sanad and right under the nose of the Syiem of Mylliem and the KHADC. They grant licenses for opening up liquor shops right, left and centre and that is why Fourth Furlong has become an area where wine stores have proliferated – nearly 30 of them at last count in that small locality. But when it comes to keeping rivers and streams clean, no Dorbar Shnong shows any inclination to restrict garbage throwing into the rivers within their jurisdiction. Actually these Rangbah Shnong hardly show any concern for the state of the rivers flowing through their areas because they blame the other shnong for the garbage that floats into their territory. It is in view of this blame game that the Operation Clean-up group had suggested that wire meshes be placed across the rivers at the point where one locality ends and the other begins. This would then mean that each shnong would be responsible for keeping their part of the river clean. But one fails to understand why neither the KHADC nor the Government see reason in this proposal.
That said, what is going to befall us very soon is a catastrophe of landslides particularly along the Pynursla area. The quarrying that is going on there to sell hundreds of truck-loads of boulders every single day is a warning that Meghalaya’s hills are coming down one after another from one day to the next. Add to that the limestone mining right from the Nongtalang-Amlarem area where trucks loaded with limestone are parked by the side of the road – for several kilometres at a stretch awaiting their turn to enter the land customs station at Tamabil or Bholaganj. You begin to wonder ‘how much is enough?’ When will people realise that they are responsible for ushering in climate change faster than it could have happened if we didn’t kill the forests and rivers through our greed and inhumanity?
And in a State whose forests are fast going to disappear we don’t even have a single environment protection NGO. Everyone is busy protecting the jaitbynriew; let ‘ka mariang’ (environment) go to hell! As if the jaitbynriew can survive without ka mariang.. Aren’t humans part of the environment? Or are we a special species that will survive like some pygmies after Meghalaya turns into a desert?


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