Protecting Myntdu before it’s too late

By HH Mohrmen

Jowai town and Myntdu are two separate entities interconnected to one another and the stories of the town and its people are intertwined with the story of the river Myntdu. What Myntdu is to Jowai, the Thames is to London; the two are inseparable one from the other. Myntdu’s relationship with Jowai is unique because it flows in an almost circular motion around Jowai town. Though a large part of the river is polluted and the river has become a dead river, only a small portion in the upstream of river Myntdu from its place of origin in Mihmyntdu till the periphery of the town, is still free from pollution caused by acid mine drainage (AMD)- a discharge from both abandoned and active coal mines. But the question is how long will it be before Myntdu becomes the next wah Umkhrah? Though there are no mining activities in the town and the Jaintia Fishing and Environment Society was able to convince miners in the Chyrmang, ?ongnoh and even Mustem village not to release mine seepage to the river Myntdu, the threat to the river is from the activities of the people who live in the town.

It is sheer coincidence that in my two recent trips to Shillong, I happened to share a taxi with the same person and what is unique about this gentleman is the moment the taxi crosses Myntdu, he would move his hand in a gesture of prayer as the car crosses the bridge. A large chunk of Jowai’s population still worships Myntdu as a deity which protects the town and its people from enemies and evil spirit. In fact, the river is as it is because of the sacred relation the town dwellers have with the river, but this too is gradually diminishing as people began to neglect the shared stories they have with the river and the gap in the relationship is only getting wider. For people who don’t know or care about these stories, Myntdu is but a mere river where they dispose their household seepage and dump their garbage in.

Myntu is not only a deity ka tawiar ka takan or the guardian angel of the town; it is the life line of the people which feeds the two vast stretches of paddy fields ka pynthor wah and ka pynthor nein and till now Myntdu is the only source of drinking water for the town’s folk. Like any town and city, Jowai too is growing by leaps and bounds; new townships have developed in the outskirts of the town and this development is going to have a drastic impact on the Myntdu which flows around these satellite townships. Sadly, the entire town does not have a proper drainage system hence all the liquid waste are discharged into the Myntdu. The town does not have a proper solid waste management either; hence the same is also dumped into the river.

Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council is a failed institution. The council is yet to implement the rule forbidding people from constructing houses right on the banks of the river. Because of that people have started constructing houses on the river in the Chah-tngid and Myntdu bridge area. And the worst part is that the council has distributed the council land in the Riatsasim area to the kith and kin of the MDCs. This particular land had once been designated as an orchid sanctuary by the former CEM, JHADC, JD Pohrmen. This land also serves as a catchment area of the river Myntdu, but now the forest has been cleared and very soon new houses will come up right on the banks of the river and we have only the JHADC to blame. If this trend continues, it will not be too long before Myntdu becomes like Wah Umkhrah.

The man at the helm of affairs in the Clean Wah Umkhrah campaign told me recently that the MLA of Jowai categorically stated that Myntdu will never go the Umkhrah way and that he had done his bit to ensure that Myntdu does not suffer the same fate that has befallen Wah Umkhrah. But the only thing that Dr RC Laloo has done so far to protect the river is to get the department of Soil and Water conservation construct a check dam at Syntu Ksiar. The two other check dams upstream were constructed at the initiative of the Jaintia Fishing and Environment Society which was sponsored by the JHADC when Moonlight Pariat was the CEM and another was sponsored by Rotary club of Jowai. I had the opportunity to be part of the discussion when the idea of constructing the first check dam to protect Myntdu was conceived. Of all the places, the idea was conceived when this writer was travelling in SK Lato’s car with W Pynkyntein Secretary of the JFES then known as Jaintia Fishing Association. When the idea of constructing the check dam as one of the means to protect Wah Myntdu was thought of, Lato a Rotarian suggested that JFA come up with a planned estimate so that he could raise funds for the project since he was due to attend the international Rotary meet shortly. That was how the first check dam over the river Myntdu came up.

These check dams or even more of these check dams will be of a little help to protect Myntdu, unless the government and the people work together to protect the river. The government needs to do more to save the river from becoming an eyesore for the people and a dead river in the future. The task to protect Myntdu is also an opportunity for Dr RC Laloo to prove to the people of Jowai that it is worth electing a PhD as their MLA. Dr Laloo has been an MLA for 20 years and now he is a frequent flyer to London. He must have therefore seen how the Thames and London co-exist. One therefore hopes that Laloo comes up with a blue-print to save the Wah Myntdu. Otherwise what is the point of having a PhD MLA if he cannot even foresee the future of the town in twenty years time? Laloo has no doubt initiated the constructing of new internal roads in Jowai which help ease traffic congestion in Iawmusiang, but I don’t think the people of Jowai constituency elected a very educated MLA simply to initiate construction of new roads and distributing MLA schemes. If the job of an MLA is merely to distribute MLA schemes then what is the point of electing a highly qualified person as an MLA, a graduate or a mere matriculate can do the same work.

And for the entire Khasi Pnar society, the challenge before us is to change our attitude towards the rivers and Mother Nature. To do that we need to rediscover our stories, the tales that link us with the rivers and the nature around us like those of Myntdu and Jowai. It reminds me of a journey to Kolkata and while the train crosses the Brahmaputra Bridge, my wife’s aunt dropped a piece of coin on the river, it didn’t strike me then that the small act has to do with the story that connects us with the nature. My wife belongs to the Passah Clan and the Passah believe that their ancestress (ka ?awbei/Seiñ jeit) was ka Beipun Bor Kupli and their ancestor grandfather was u Papun Yale, the coin was dropped to pay obeisance to the Brahmaputra to which the river Kupli flows. I later learnt that a member of the Passah clan has to perform ka siang or offering before crossing the river Kupli, the offering consists of one unpeeled betel nut and three or five betel leaves (pan leaf) without lime. This is one story that I would tell my kids to help them discover the profound links we have with the nature and hopefully it will help them respect the rivers and Kupli in particular. I want them to know the story of the Passah clan and I hope they will be proud to know that they are the descendants of ka Beipun Bor Kupli- they are the children of the mighty river. There are many such stories that demonstrate the profound relationship the people have with nature and all we have to do is to rediscover these stories.

(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)