Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Can We Trust the MDA Govt with the Environment?


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By HH Mohrmen

Come World Environment Day (WED) and the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance Government will make a bold claim of initiating new programs or projects to protect and preserve the environment. Conrad K. Sangma the Chief Minister will wax eloquent at the WED celebration about the different government initiatives to conserve the environment, but scratch the surface a little bit and the public will see the real picture. The question is can the people of the state really trust the MDA to protect the environment? The MDA government is obviously not even trying to improve forest cover; instead they are destroying even the forest we inherited from our forefathers. The question is not what happened to the million saplings that this government claimed to have planted, but what have they done with the legacy forest that we have inherited.
State forest is holding only 1145.19 sq km or 5.10% of forest cover in the state, and we are hoping that the government will try to increase the forest cover in the state but unfortunately, that is not what is happening. This government is removing even the existing virgin forest bit by bit.
Balpakram National Park
Balpakram National Park in the south of Garo Hills in Meghalaya, India, sits at an altitude of about 910 m (3,000 ft) close to the international border with Bangladesh. It was inaugurated in December 1987 and provides habitat for barking deer, Asian golden cat, Bengal tiger, marbled cat, wild water buffalo, red panda and Indian elephant. Balpakram means “land of the eternal wind,” according to the myth of the Garo people. Balpakram National Park which is also known as the resting place of spirits of the dead, covers an area of about 220 Sq.km. (Gazette Notification & Date: No.FOR.103/34/354, Dt.15-2-1986). Located about 166 km from Tura and 62 km from Baghmara the District’s headquarters, it is the pride of the Garo people, but look at what the MDA government has done to the national park.
Balpakram and highway expansion
It was reported in The Shillong Times issue dated May 23, that the government will cut 2,548 hectares of land from ecological sensitive BNP for expansion of Highway 4 from Maheshkhola to Karnai. A notification issued by Commissioner and Secretary of Forest & Environment Department stated that the government in exercise of the power conferred under sub section (6) of Section 35 of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and after consultation with the standing committee of the National Board of Wild Life, the government authorizes the Chief Wildlife Warden, Meghalaya to grant permit for diversion of 2,548 hectares of land within the BNP. Now isn’t this intrusion into the animal habitat? The Chief Minister has time and again spoken about the Sustainable Development Goals and the state government’s effort to achieve the goal by 2030, but can destroying the ecological sensitive zone be a sustainable act?
BNP and UNESCO World Heritage site
It is well known that Balpakram National Park is home to wide species of plants and animals. The website stated that its vegetation consists of subtropical, grassland, bamboo forest, tropical deciduous trees and carnivorous plants like the pitcher-plant and Drosera. It also mentioned that species recorded include Indian elephant, chital deer, wild water buffalo, red panda, Bengal tiger, and marbled cat. The rivers and lakes in the wildlife reserve are home to various species of birds. The BNP is therefore a fit case for inclusion in the world famous list of places with special status.
It was reported a few years back that the Central government of India has nominated the Garo Hills Conservation Area (GHCA), straddling South and West Garo Hills district in Meghalaya, as a World Heritage Site, which includes Balpakram National Park. The park has received an honour of having been listed in UNESCO World Heritage tentative list. The question is what will happen to the status now? When a large chunk of land is carved out of the eco zone, can the BNP still be a contender to the important list?
Narpuh Wild Life Sanctuary and Saipung Reserve
The government has not only failed in the protection and preservation of the BNP, but it has even failed in protecting the other reserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries and other sensitive zones under the control and management of the state government. There were reports of encroachment into the forest land in the Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary and the Saipung reserve and maybe in the Nokrek biosphere reserve too. If this is indeed the case then can the state even claim to still have in its control 1145.19 sq km or 5.10% of forest cover in the state.
How do we deal with our waste?
The State not only failed in preserving and protecting the forest, but it has failed in dealing with waste which is another important issue in the sustainable development goals. In the same issue of The Shillong Times which reported about BNP, there is also a report about the status of Marten dumping ground in Shillong which was opened in 1983.
It was reported that on an average 140 tons of waste is being dumped at the ground on a daily basis and it is overflowing. Segregation of waste at source is not happening as localities outside the city are not cooperating. People are not aware of different rules and regulations on waste and not even the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. The Chief Minister claimed that the government has already embarked on ways to deal with legacy waste at Marten, but the plan is yet to see the light of day.
Condition of the water in the Myntdu River
Rivers in the state are not in good health. Recently it was reported that the condition of two rivers, Umiew in East Khasi Hills, and Ganol in Garo Hills is critical and that water sources of these rivers are rapidly drying up. This should be a major cause for concern, especially as Umiew, Umtrew and Ganol are important rivers in the state. The pertinent question is about water supply to Jowai, another important town of the state. The National Green Tribunal based on the test conducted by Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board, has issued an order with regards to the water supply in Jowai. The order states that, as per the report prepared by the MSPCB, the NGT has found that the health of the river Myntdu is seriously compromised due to its high acid content. Human interference is causing the river to deteriorate, and excessive siltation is causing the river size to reduce. It was also reported that the water is also not potable due to the disposal of untreated waste and sewage.
Myntdu is still the major source of drinking water for the town
Before the end of 2022 just before the election, with so much fanfare the Umgot water supply was inaugurated by the government. What the residents of the town are not aware of is that despite the completion of the new water supply project, Jowai continues to rely on the Myntdu, for its daily water needs. Myntdu water supply project, which is pumped from Mupiah, supplies the town with 4.086 MLD of water (RTI reply No. EE/PHE/Elect/JWI/Estt. 21/2022-23/1075 dated December 23, 2022). The much-hyped Umngot water supply, on the other hand, supplies only 1.486 MLD of water to the town, which is only about one fourth of the total amount of water supplied to the town (Ibid. RTI). The Myntdu water supply project continues to be the main source of water for the people of Jowai, as it supplies more than fifty percent of the town’s water requirements.
Hon’ble High Court Order
It may be reminded that the High Court of Meghalaya in its order in PIL No. 10 of 2019, has prohibited any construction of a permanent nature within 50 metres from the mean high flood level of Umiam Lake in Ri Bhoi District. The order further stated that the matter is no longer limited to Umiam Lake but has extended to other water bodies and rivers in the state. Additionally, it was reported that the Meghalaya High Court has ordered the Autonomous District Council to take action to maintain the water bodies’ purity. The question is how can the PWD allow construction of roads along the river Myntdu? Isn’t this a case of government agencies failing to implement the court order? Isn’t this a case of contempt of court? This Government will be remembered for hitting the last nail in the coffin of the river Myntdu.
In conclusion Conrad K Sangma has not only failed to “walk the talk” that he once promised to walk from his residence to the Chief Minister’s Secretariat at least once a week, but he has failed on all fronts when it comes to protecting the environment. The Government has also failed in implementing the SDGs in the State.


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