Revenue-minded Planning Board goes soft on sawmills

Asks officials to go lenient on rules

SHILLONG/ JOWAI: The Meghalaya State Planning Board is more concerned about the government’s revenue than the environment and wants departments concerned to “go easy” on sawmills and stone crushers.
In a marathon meeting with various departments here on Wednesday, the Board directed officials of the Forest, Mining and Geology departments – who proposed an action plan to stop the numerous sawmills and stone crushers running illegally in the state – to “slow down on the process and work out a better way to address the matter”.
He cited negative impact on livelihood as the reason for the decision.
Talking to media persons after the marathon meeting with various departments, Planning Board chairman Lambor Malngiang said the state is suffering due to ban on coal mining.
Asserting that people now have to run from pillar to post to obtain necessary permission for any mining activities, Malngiang said the Board asked them to complete all paper works for obtaining permission within 45 days.
“We have asked them to simplify rules and regulations and it should not be a burden on locals,” he added.
Malngiang maintained that sawmills should be allowed to function as the timbers in the mills are produced for consumption in the state and not for export.
The Board’s leniency is in stark contrast to the apparently environment-conscious chief minister who walked from his house in Upper Shillong to the Secretariat on June 5 (World Environment Day) to send out a green message to the citizens of the fast urbanising Shillong.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had also made lengthy speeches on the need for embracing renewable energy and protecting environment for a sustainable future, not to mention his elaborate plans about promoting eco-tourism.
The Planning Board’s decision also violates the Supreme Court order of December 1996 that banned felling of trees in forests, running of saw, plywood and veneer mills under state governments with the Centre’s clearance and transporting timber and cut trees from the North East to the rest of the country.
The court had also asked states to work out a regulatory system to harvest wood from private plantations.
When reminded about the Supreme Court order, Malngiang said the living condition of locals should be considered and one after another ban on mining activities have affected their livelihood.
“I am not saying we will break the rules but they have to accept the reality here. These are meant for local consumption and we are trying to work out things in a different way as a special consideration for sawmills to operate in the state,” the chairman added.
Seven sawmills in Garo Hills have obtained mining lease while others are yet to obtain it.
The process of producing timber products, starting from log extraction, is divided into several stages which can adversely affect environment in the form of water, air and soil pollution. Sawmills also add to greenhouse gases leading to global warming. Besides, at a time when the state is facing acute power crisis, these illegal units are consuming electricity.
The Board’s shocking directive comes at a time when a special task force in Jaintia Hills closed down 185 illegal sawmills in the east and west districts. Crackdown on the illegal units started on Tuesday and ended on Wednesday.
R Nainamalai, the district forest officer in Jaintia Hills, also raised concerns over locals’ livelihood and suggested that more industrial estates should come up to curtail the negative impact of the ban on economy.
There is only one industrial estate in Jaintia Hills located at Khliehtyrshi and the Forest Department is proposing to create more economic zones in the region.
Of the 185 closed sawmills, more than 120 were operating in West Jaintia Hills, said Nainamalai.
Six teams were on inspection and each team had officials from the Forest Department, the JHADC, MeECL and a magistrate.
The power connectivity to the illegal units was also cut off. “We will take stern action against those who re-open their saw mills,” the DFO said, adding that the special task force will continue to look into the matter in the future.