Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Illegal quarrying, mining rampant in Meghalaya


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SHILLONG, June 13: Rampant quarrying and mining activities continue in Meghalaya with authorities choosing to remain oblivious to the extreme loss of green cover in the state.
Out of a total of 1,855 mines recorded across 39 Community & Rural Development Blocks in Meghalaya, there are a total of 802 confirmed mines, 898 probable mines and only 155 legally operated mines/quarries.
Of the 39 C&RD Blocks, Thadlaskein in West Jaintia Hills has a total of 135 mines of which 104 are confirmed mines, 21 probable and only 10 are legal mines.
Shella in East Khasi Hills has a total of 139 mines of which 101 are confirmed, 35 are probable and only 3 are legally operated.
Khliehriat in East Jaintia Hills has 63 confirmed mines and 86 probable mines for a total of 149 mines with only one legal mine in operation.
In Mawphlang there are 22 confirmed mines and 54 probable mines all of which are operating illegally.
In West Garo Hills, Selsella has the highest number of mines/quarries at 91. Of them 35 are confirmed, 20 are probables and 36 are legally operated.
This reporter tried to collect information from all the Divisional Forest Officers (DFO) of all districts but was able to procure the mining details only from the DFO, East Khasi Hills. Others wanted a formal request before providing the details.
In East Khasi Hills there are 18 mines for boulder stones in a total area of 54.36 hectares. The number of limestone mines only in one district totals 54 and stretches over 120.4 hectares of land.
In Meghalaya, the top three regions of West Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and West Garo Hills were responsible for 57% of all tree cover loss.
From 2001 to 2023, Meghalaya lost 2,31 kha (1 kha is 1,000 hectares or 10 sqkm) of tree cover, equivalent to a 14% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 118 MT of CO₂ emissions.
West Khasi Hills had the most tree cover loss at 57.6 kha.
The process for obtaining a mining lease from the Office of the DFO involves the following: registered land documents; NOC/NFLC from the district councils; NOC from the Wildlife Division; NOC from village headman/Sordar; EPIC; GPS map of the area and KML File (KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language – a file format used to display geographic data in an earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps) and NOC from Biodiversity Board.
With such a meticulous process in place it is surprising that 1,855 mines/quarries are operating without any legal sanction. Neither the district councils nor the Forest Department whose brief it is to keep a close watch over the state’s forest cover are able to give definitive answers.
If 1,700 out of the 1,855 mines/quarries are operating sans any license it also means that the state does not earn any revenue from these illegally extracted resources.
Officials of the Forest Department claim that it is the Territorial Division of the Forest Department that has the onus of keeping watch so that no illegalities are allowed to clandestinely happen.
Incidentally Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma himself holds the portfolio of the Environment and Forest Department. When contacted, the CM said that he has to see the facts and report and only then he can comment.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Forest department said that the state government will certainly take a strict view of the presence of the illegal mines and action as per law will be taken against these illegal mines.
“We are trying our best to monitor the ground situation and all the authorities are responsible for maintaining order. They are on the job to check these illegalities in proper coordination with each other. I will direct the concerned official to immediately take action if any specific information is provided to us,” he said.
The official said that the State Forest department has got its own staff even though it is limited in numbers.
Stating that the staff of the department has got specific to look after the reserve forest, he said that he will not be able to give the summary of the action taken right now.
“I can assure that proper action will be initiated against the illegal miners which are operating,” the official said.
Meanwhile, he informed that the State Forest department is responsible for issuing the mining leases for the minor minerals.
According to him, it is an elaborate process since the concerned miners will need to get non-forest land certificate and clearance from various statutory bodies before the mining lease is issued.
The official informed that they have also included the plan for recovery of the mining areas after mining has been done completely.
He said that they have properly mapped out these areas and they are under due control adding that transport challan are being issued with regards to the minor minerals which are being extracted.
“As far as the territorial jurisdiction is concerned, the State Forest department is confined only to the reserve forest. If it is confined anywhere, our job is to patrol the areas in coordination with the police and district administration,” the official said.
Informing that they have also constituted a district task force in every district for this purpose, he informed that they are on the job of monitoring and taking further action including filing of offensive action report against any violations of the rules and laws.


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