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Govt to buy land to save catchment areas

Over 1000 hectares of private land to be acquired

SHILLONG: In an attempt to safeguard the depleting catchment areas, the Meghalaya Government is planning to acquire over 1000 hectares of privately-owned land to ensure that the catchment areas are kept protected from unwarranted human activities.
“We are planning to acquire over 1000 hectares of land under the catchment areas. The Planning department is examining the possibilities for acquiring the land falling under the catchment areas,” Forest and Environment Minister Prestone Tynsong informed here on Monday.
“The Government at present is unable to protect the catchment areas as desired since the lands along the catchment areas are privately owned. The only way we can protect the catchment areas is for the Government to acquire all these lands under the catchment areas including those which are privately owned,” the minister said.
While referring to the Mawphlang Dam which is the only source of drinking water supply to Shillong city, Tynsong admitted that this source is facing a huge threat from unscientific method of stone quarrying by individuals.
“This dam which supplies drinking water to the city via the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme at Mawphlang is faced with a threat of being filled up with sand and pebbles due to the unscientific method of stone quarrying by individuals at Umtyngngar and Mawjrong,” Tynsong added.
Expressing fear over this unscientific method of stone quarrying, he said, “Every year the streams are being reduced and it might pose a threat in the next 25 years as far as supply of drinking water is concerned.”
Tynsong also observed that it would be futile to declare any area as catchment area if the State government did not have any say over the land. Speaking on the delay in amendment of the Meghalaya Catchment Areas Act, 1990 that would allow the government to acquire land for the purpose, Tynsong said that the State government was trying to raise substantial amount of funds for acquiring the land under the catchment areas.
Tynsong also said that the Government will try to incorporate the provision for acquiring all the land which falls under the various catchment areas across the State in the proposed amendment of the Meghalaya Protection of Catchment Areas Act, 1990.
Meanwhile, he also said that the government intends to identify the various catchment areas as critical and non-critical as this would allow the government to prioritize those critical areas which are facing serious due to various unwanted human activities.
It is noteworthy that the State Government Programme Implementation Monitoring Committee (SGPIMC) had exhorted the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) to preserve the catchment areas, but the Department expressed difficulty in preserving these catchment areas blaming it on the prevailing land tenure system in the State.
“Even though, there is a law called Meghalaya Protection of Catchment Area Act, 1990, to preserve the catchment areas yet the same has been overshadowed by the land tenure system practiced in our State,” the PHED had stated.
As per the Act, no mining activities should be done in a distance of 100 metre from the river banks, yet the same law cannot be enforced as the land belonged to the private individuals, the department had said.
Earlier, PHE Chief Engineer S.K. Sunn had expressed the need for amendment of the prevailing Meghalaya Protection of Catchment Area Act, 1990, to ensure that the catchment areas are being protected and preserved and at the same time to enforce strict actions against those individuals who are caught break this law.
The official had reiterated that it was high time that the government did something while calling upon the people to oversee the future of the state in terms of drinking water availability stating that “a mutual understanding on the part of the public will help preserve the water bodies in the state”.

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