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CSWO head pays for probing illegal mining

Agnes & aide brutally assaulted; CM condemns attack; cops take up suo motu case

JOWAI: The mining war in the state is getting bloodier post the Assembly election with another activist, who was consistently inquiring the illegal coal mining in different parts of the state, becoming the target of stakeholders who stand to gain from illegal mining.
CSWO president Agnes Kharshiing and her associate Amita Sangma were brutally assaulted with stones and wooden poles by a group of around 40 people, including truck drivers and coal traders, at Tuber Shohshrieh in East Jaintia Hills on Thursday afternoon. The attack took place a day after Kharshiing detected five coal-laden trucks parked at Mawiong Rim in Shillong, which were later seized by the police. The activists had gone to Tuber to follow up the case.
Both the activists received grievous head injuries and are admitted in a city hospital in critical condition.
Kharshiing became the second activist to be attacked this year after the NPP-ruled coalition government came to power. The new government is determined to lift the NGT ban on coal mining in Meghalaya and the chief minister has already made several meetings with central ministers.
On March 20, Poipynhun Majaw, who was the president of Jaintia Youth Federation and an RTI activist from East Jaintia Hills, was found murdered in Khliehriat for delving deeper than expected into the murky world of cement companies. Majaw’s murderers are still at large.
Emiki Kurbah, the driver of the hired vehicle that Kharshiing and Sangma were travelling in, managed to escape without major injuries on Thursday and narrated the events preceding and following the attack:
We left Shillong in the morning and we went straight to Ladrymbai police outpost where we had tea with some police personnel. There were three of us — Kong Agnes, me and one Amita Sangma, a Garo lady.
While returning from Ladrymbai to Shillong, Kong Agnes spotted some trucks which were loading coal illegally despite the NGT ban and started taking pictures along the way from Ladrymbai till Kongong. On reaching Tuber Shohshrieh, she spotted two more trucks loading coal about 100 m away from the national highway and she asked me to divert (the car) and she took some pictures and came back to my vehicle. We went back and just before reaching the national highway, I saw some Gypsy (Maruti Gypsy) vehicles and Bolero block our way. Around 30-40 people had already assembled there.
We were pulled out of the vehicle and a lady came directly towards me and snatched my car key while some men threatened to burn down the vehicle. I was spared by some members of the group who had dragged me into a Bolero vehicle and later dropped me back and let me drive.
I drove till Jowai when I met some traffic police and informed them of the incident.
The East Jaintia Hills deputy SP, Gilbert AL Marshillong, said the SP, after receiving information about the incident, sent two teams of police personnel to locate and rescue Kharshiing and Sangma.
Sources close to the CSWO said the district police did not know where the women were attacked and earlier even two patrolling teams were sent out in search of the duo but they could not track the victims.
“We tried to locate the spot but on reaching Tuber Shohshrieh we saw a lady waving her hand to stop vehicles for help and we stopped and located both of them. They were rushed to Jowai District Civil Hospital, Ialong,” said Marshillong.
The duo were attacked and dragged into a forest where they were left to bleed. Kharshiing was found unconscious and she was profusely bleeding from her head. It was informed that Sangma managed to crawl her way to the highway to get help. She took the police to the spot where Kharshiing was lying.
The miscreants damaged her mobile phones and camera as she was filming the illegal coal mining.
According to the activist’s brother John Kharshiing, the mob attacked them when the CSWO activist started taking photographs of police seizing the coal-laden trucks.
As per the referral slip of Jowai Civil Hospital, Kharshiing has head injuries, two cut injuries, skull bone deep up to 7-9 cm in the scalp and she was profusely bleeding. Her general condition was “conscious but too weak to speak”.
The state police have taken a suo motu cognizance of the attack and started an investigation.
A top officer from the Meghalaya Police said they have to take suo motu cognizance as both the women were seriously injured and were not in a position to file FIR.
While suspecting that the attack on Kharshiing and her colleague must be the work of the coal mafia, it was also informed that the SB branch first informed the East Jaintia Hills SP about the incident after which they swung into action.
Both Kharshiing and Sangma were later shifted to NEIGRIHMS. Cabinet Minister Sniawbhalang Dhar and Congress MLA George Lyngdoh visited NEIGRIHMS on Thursday evening.
The driver is also admitted in NEIGRIHMS.
The doctors at Jowai Civil Hospital did not give stitches as the gash was too deep.
In a statement, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said the MDA government “strongly condemns the attack on Agnes Kharshiing and her team, who were in Jaintia Hills today”.
“We have issued necessary directions to the police and district administration to investigate the matter and arrest those behind the attack,” the chief minister said while adding that the Civil Society plays an important role in a democratic system as they are instrumental in highlighting the concerns of the people.
“Violence in any form will not be tolerated and the government will take all necessary steps to ensure that those behind the attack are brought to justice,” he added.
(With inputs from our reporter in Shillong)

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