It’s about protecting the environment

By HH Mohrmen

Since the incident of my being detained at the Laitumkhrah Police Station was reported in the press, one out of every ten people I meet would greet me differently. Even before enquiring about my health, which is customary practice in Khasi Pnar society, the first question that people ask me is, “What happened to the case?” Some would venture a wee bit further and ask, “Has anything happened to you after that incident?” Well, there were also letters and articles of support and my name or the unfortunate incident found mention in many articles, speeches in seminars, debates and even panel discussions and I am grateful for the generous support. But all the efforts of trying to bring to light the adverse effects of unregulated mining on the environment will be futile if instead of debating the real issue, the unfortunate incident takes precedence.

The issue is about the government ensuring sustainable use of mineral resources and protecting the environment and not about anything else. As we debate about the need to immediately enact regulatory mechanisms to regulate and monitor mining activities in the state, our environment is being destroyed day in and day out. And if the current rate and the free for all mining system that is being practiced in the state continues, many more rivers will be polluted and larger tracts of land will be in danger of becoming deserts. The threat of the earth caving in is imminent in the mining areas. The Shillong Times June 13 issue carried a report of coal being mined in the area where the famous stone bridge on the river Thlu-mu-wi near Chkentalang village stands. The Stone bridge is not only the remnant of the monolithic culture of the Khasi Pnar society which falls in the ‘mawpoon, or mawkjat’ category of the different types of monoliths that we have, but the same is under the protection of the Archeological Survey of India and a signpost to that effect is found dotted all over the place in that area. But that does not deter the coal miners in the area from mining even in the heart of an important heritage site.

The mawpun at Thlu-mu-wi is one of the many stone bridges on the ancient trail which starts from Nartiang the summer capital of the Jaintia Monarch to Jaintiapur which is the winter seat of the Kingdom and the fact that the bridge is on the Jowai-Amlarem-Dawki road and the miners still continue with the illegal activity in broad daylight is astounding to say the least. Where is the law enforcement agency in the Amlarem Sub Division? On the same day a prominent vernacular paper carried another story relating to mining and it was about the collapse of a portion of the National Highway 44. Part of the National Highway 44 in the Wapung Chnong area in front of the petrol station caved-in and the land owner immediately hired a JCB and two dumpers to fill the huge crack. Without obtaining any permission from the Executive Engineer PWD central division, Jowai or even informing the authorities concerned, the landowner adjacent to the road took it upon himself to fill the cracks on the road before anybody from the government could see it. The effort to fill the portion of the road which collapsed was to cover up for the mining that is going on under the ground horizontally and which has reached the portion of the road and caused the side of the road to cave-in.

A few days later newspapers reported the findings of the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board with regards to the mass death of fishes in the river Kynshi. The report has clearly stated that it has evidence to prove that the cause of the death of fishes in the river of West Khasi Hills District was due to the contamination from the acidic runoff from the coal mines in the area. Ironically I had predicted that the rivers in the coal mine areas of West Khasi Hills will suffer the same fate as that of the rivers in Jaintia Hills, in the same article where an FIR was filed against me, but it is sad that this happened so soon. While the government is yet to decide on the fate of the State Mining Policy, mining is being carried on in the area where there are exotic and famous caves of Meghalaya. Who will be responsible for the loss of these unique caves and cave systems some of which are yet to be properly surveyed and mapped. We should thank the Meghalaya Adventurers’Association (MAA)for mapping and photographing much of the cave systems in the state and even filming them. These photographs and films will be the only evidence of the presence of these extraordinary caves in the state that we will be able to pass on to our children!

Funnily the Dorbar Shnong has now become an expert in mining. They are now the authority to permit mining in the area under the village’s jurisdiction. Take the example of Nongtalang village which has a headman who is not even a high school graduate and whose position as the headman is only by virtue of the tradition that the Lyngdoh of the Niam Tynrai in the village will also be the headman. He along with the local committee arbitrarily decided to allow lime stone mining in the area. One wonders if the village elders have consulted any expert in area of mining and environment to arrive at a conclusion that mining will not have any adverse effects on the environment. Nongtalang is also a peculiar village in the sense that large tract of land are still owned by very few clans and they call themselves ‘the Jamindars.’ The Jamindar inherited the thick green forests from their ancestors who have kept it intact. But the present generation has decided to lease it for mining to the highest bidder. The tradition of keeping the land for the future generation has been done away with by the present generation of Jamindars and unlike their ancestors they have leased out the land without thinking of the future generation.

The absence of the mining policy is one reason that the mining in the state is in a complete mess and there is chaos everywhere. But having ineffective government agencies has only add fuel to the fire. The office of the SDO Civil Sub Division which is supposed to ensure that the law of the land prevails in the area turned a Nelson’s eye to all illegal activities going on in the mining areas in the Amlarem sub division. The miner use explosive in the mines, and the explosives are illegally procured. The question is, isn’t the office of the SDO by its act of omission also party to the illegal act?

The Chief Forest Officer of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, has also by his act of omission failed to stop the illegal cutting of trees which is a breach of the court order and thereby liable to be booked for contempt of court. The State Forest Department Jaintia hills too has not done anything to stop the clearing of large forest areas for limestone mining which is again in contravention of the National Forest Act. The Office of the SDO Civil Sub Division Amalrem Sub Division needs to put its act together and see that the law of the land prevails in the area and the government of day should see that the environment is protected.

(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)

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