Wednesday, July 24, 2024

CM heeds operation clean-up team’s urgent env concerns


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SHILLONG, July 2: The Operation Clean-Up (OCU) team, involved in river cleaning since 2019, met Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Tuesday to draw his attention to issues of environmental concern, which led to a constructive dialogue facilitating in conceptualising a robust plan for preservation of the environment that would address critical areas such as waste management in the state.
Led by team leader Patricia Mukhim, the 13-member team urged the Chief Minister to ban single-use plastic bags which were the single-largest polluters of rivers and are the bulk of garbage collected anywhere. The OCU also stressed on the need to keep track of the illegal mines and quarries in the state as they were responsible for deforestation and the drying up of catchments.
Stating that a substantial amount of royalty paid to Forest department by various government departments needed to make roads by clearing forests, should revert to the communities living around those forests for eco-restoration and for growing more forests.
OCU also called upon the CM to take waste management beyond Shillong and the district headquarters since villagers were at present burning their non-biodegradable waste. Citing that the bulk of waste in the rivers also comprises disposable menstrual pads and nappies like huggies, cement bags and clothes, the team suggested that reusable and washable menstrual pad should be promoted in the larger interest of the environment. Shubham, an NGO and a non-profit organisation that is part of OCU, and is involved in producing reusable pads, demonstrated their products and asked the CM to advocate their use to prevent rivers from becoming dumping grounds of human waste.
The final yet the most critical point made by the OCU is the imminent threat to the Umiam Lake where garbage flowing all the way from Shillong rivers has accumulated all around the Lake causing massive sedimentation. They asked the CM to intervene in this matter and pointed out that the bulk of garbage there comprised of Styrofoam used for packing fish.
Responding to the points raised by the OCU one by one, the CM pointed out that the government has already imposed a ban on plastic bags below 75 microns and 300 gauge. He instructed his office to check with the supplier and godowns/manufacturers if these plastics below 75 microns and 300 gauge are still available. He added that initiatives are already on to produce biodegradable bags by ‘Saindur Enviro’, which is expected to start production by the month of December this year.
While taking stock of forest cover and illegal mines/quarries in the state, the CM responded that there is a need for more clarity about this figure of about 1,700 mines/quarries that are alleged to be operating illegally in the state since most of these mines are already abandoned.
With regards to the stone and sand quarrying that is still operating in many areas, CM said that since the laws allow for such activity to happen, the government is not in a position to enforce a total ban which will affect the livelihoods of many. However, those quarries which are located along the rivers and roadside should be stopped, he asserted.
On the matter pertaining to the Forest Royalty collected by the Forest department, the CM informed that 50 per cent of the forest royalty goes to the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). However, he said he would examine this proposal for sharing of the forest royalty with the communities to take up environmental protection programmes.
With regard to the lack of organised waste management across the state, the CM stated that since Meghalaya has about 7,000 villages, it is a huge task to manage the waste since the villages are scattered across the state.
However, encouragement to entrepreneurs to set up village waste recovery systems both in village and urban areas should be explored. The IIM Shillong, which is also partnering with OCU, has been entrusted with the task of starting a waste management business plan competition, which is open to all and will be funded by the government along similar lines as the CM-Elevate programme. Prof Teidor Lyngdoh of IIM Shillong will lead this project.
With regard to the reduction of disposable products, especially the huggies/menstrual pads, etc., the CM informed the team about the phenomenal progress made in the Tinsukia Dumping Ground and that the same company is being invited to help deal with the legacy waste at Marten.
Conrad also mentioned the initiatives of a local society in West Khasi Hills that produces organic sanitary pads for young women of the area.
Impressed with the reusable sanitary pads produced by Shubham, he asked them to submit a formal project proposal including financial implications which can be funded from CM’s Fund. On the overall waste management, the CM has entrusted the OCU and the Meghalaya Institute of Governance (MIG) to prepare a comprehensive pilot master plan which will address waste collection, segregation, creation of innovative waste traps to enhance filtration of waste from households to rivers and its proper disposal.
The MIG and OCU, on their part, will identify a compact area and work together with the local authorities and other stakeholders to come out with the Master Plan as soon as possible. While addressing the Umiam Lake crises and the issues raised by the OCU, with regards to the garbage especially of Styrofoam/syringes etc., the CM has instructed his officers to prepare a background note and meet him in the coming week. He also requested the OCU to provide photos and videography footage of the waste so that corrective measures can be taken.
It may be mentioned that Operation Clean-Up comprises Team Jiva, Martin Luther Christian University, Kiddies Corner School, Col Sishupal Security Company (CSSC), Shubham NGO and other concerned individuals.


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