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Politics of Nature: A clarion call to prioritise env during elections

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SHILLONG, June 4: As the world gears up to celebrate World Environment Day, the spotlight in the state seems to be on a different stage – how many people, including politicians and voters, are actually bothered about the environment? One important question arises — does the environment factor into the voters’ decision-making process?
Has environment conservation ever made it into an election manifesto in the state?
According to the Green Tech Foundation (GTF), a Shillong-based Environmental NGO, it is high time for conscious citizens to prioritise the environment when electing people’s representatives.
Speaking to The Shillong Times, Chairman at GTF H Bansiewdor Nonglang said, “Environment and its natural aura is shared by one and all. As a saying goes that ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly’, we must understand the factum and gravity of the same when one place suffers environmental threats, all other places under one planet shall have the affect indirectly. As we undergo transformation of climatic events, environmental policies must be understood by one and all that it is the need of the hour.”
“Imperatively, election manifestos of various political parties must include such environmental policies that will address the environmental concerns of this modern day and how humanity is being critically affected by the nature of things, especially climate change and erratic natural occurrences.”
The recurring landslides, forest fires, micro-climatic zones tell a story that this hill state is also going into the self-destructive way of climate change, and no politician, or political party is seriously talking about it.
The reality on the ground is grim.
Data by Global Forest Watch reveals a significant loss of natural forest cover across various districts of Meghalaya. East Khasi Hills, East Garo Hills, Ri Bhoi, and West Garo Hills have all witnessed a decline in their forest areas, leading to substantial CO₂ emissions.
In 2010, East Khasi Hills had 162 kha of natural forest, extending over 63% of its land area. In 2023, it lost 620 ha of natural forest, equivalent to 445 kt of CO₂ emissions. Total area of humid primary forest in East Khasi Hills decreased by 4.2% in this time period, while in East Garo Hills had 160 kha of natural forest, in 2010 extending over 75% of its land area. In 2023, it lost 1.03 kha of natural forest, equivalent to 511 kt of CO₂ emissions.
Total area of humid primary forest in East Garo Hills decreased by 17% in this time period. In 2010, Ri-Bhoi had 173 kha of natural forest, extending over 75% of its land area. In 2023, it lost 1.87 kha of natural forest, equivalent to 1.06 Mt of CO₂ emissions. Total area of humid primary forest in Ri Bhoi decreased by 9.9% in this time period.
In 2010, West Garo Hills had 181 kha of natural forest, extending over 60% of its land area. In 2023, it lost 994 ha of natural forest, equivalent to 461 kt of CO₂ emissions. From 2002 to 2023, West Garo Hills lost 1.45 kha of humid primary forest, making up 4.4% of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. Total area of humid primary forest in West Garo Hills decreased by 14% in this time period.
This loss not only contributes to environmental degradation but also impacts biodiversity and ecosystem stability.
However, an optimistic Nonglang said, “People have now begun to understand nature and the environment with heat waves, rise in temperature, late advent of the monsoon etc., and this awakening must click a switch that environment is a crucial factor when choosing a representative who can address environment concerns nationally and, all the more, globally. We, the people of Meghalaya, are very much attached to the Earth, blessed in an ethereal realm of scenic natural beauty, let it not be that what we were once proud of begin to curse lasting to generations after.”
What indeed does make it more difficult is that the control and management of these forest areas pose a complex challenge, with only a fraction under the direct jurisdiction of the Meghalaya’s Forest Department. The majority of forested lands are either privately owned or managed by autonomous district councils, which make it more difficult for collaborative efforts for effective conservation.
Overall, Meghalaya has experienced a significant decrease in tree cover since 2000, accompanied by substantial CO₂ emissions. While data comparisons require caution due to methodological changes, the overarching trend signals an urgent need for concerted action to address the state’s environmental challenges.
As the world commemorates World Environment Day, Shillong stands at a critical juncture, calling for collective awareness, political will, and concrete measures to safeguard its natural heritage for generations to come.

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