The West Jaintia Students’ Union had issued a warning to so called “OUTSIDERS” not to interfere and raise any alarm on the limestone mining in the area since limestone has been gifted by GOD for the community to mine the way they want (ST July 9, 2019). In the same
newspaper (ST July 12, 2019), the editor Patricia Mukhim had raised the question as to who is the outsider that WJSU spoke of. After pausing awhile, I recollected that on the June 29, 2019 as reported in The Shillong Times the next day, the Governor of Meghalaya, Mr Tathagata Roy had expressed his strong views against mining of limestone and the devastation it has caused to the environment which he witnessed while travelling from Shillong to Dawki and back through Amlarem.
The WJSU statement came a week after the Governor’s statement. So who is the outsider that the Union is hinting at? After looking at the calendar of events, it can be logically concluded that the outsider is the “Governor.” I, for one was really happy to read what the Governor had said about coal mines and limestone quarries, particularly the latter which have damaged the ecology of Meghalaya and called the quarries ‘Sore thumbs’. He also said that planting trees is not enough
and he will take up the matter with the Chief Minister. Patricia Mukhim too had raised relevant questions as to how students are concerned about mining when they should be agitated about the
adverse effects of mining. As for me who am not an “outsider” my immediate concern is for the beautiful suspension bridge over Umngot river which is the only one of its kind in the country. Built in the 1930s by the British, this beautiful bridge had served not only our generation but the last generations too. Having crossed its expected life and after 70 years of independence, our government has not been able to build a more modern and stronger bridge to link the southern part of West Jaintia Hills with East Khasi Hills, as well as the capital city of our state Shillong. This unique bridge is being used presently for transport of limestone in hundreds of trucks to Bangladesh every day. Recently when I was travelling to Dawki through this road, I could not but ask myself, “Who allowed this bridge to be abused to this extent?” Are we really heartless, brainless, and greedy to the point where we are blind even when we have eyes? And deaf when
we have ears? Have we lost even our commonsense due to greed? I tried to get the story from the side of the authorities and this is what they said, “You see this bridge has crossed its life and the building of a new bridge is in the process, that’s why no more maintenance is required.”
The last time this bridge was painted and repaired was in 2006 ! This talk about the new bridge was there since the last three decades since this road happened to be a national highway. The reality is, unless immediate steps are taken we are going to lose this beautiful bridge. My heart aches when I see the bridge and the abuse it is subjected to. In fact, it should be declared a HERITAGE structure by our Government. If anyone happens to go there, the rust on the bridge and especially on the 8 steel bar on which the bridge is being suspended is clearly visible. If the Government can spend several crores on the Chief Minister’s and Chief Justice’s residential bungalow, surely they should be able to spare some money to renovate and immediately order maintenance work for the bridge which is long overdue.
In my humble opinion, this bridge should be conserved by the state government and only essential commodities should be transported through it, not limestone. Yes the Government earns revenue from limestone. But my question is that Rs 4000 crore revenue was lost due to the coal ban from 2014 till date as calculated by some. What is the monetary loss to the environment caused by mining? How much will it cost to restore the devastating effects of mining on our eco system? Unless we quantify this negative effect we cannot make comparisons.
Our forefathers addressed nature as “MOTHER” and we have to ask ourselves if we are treating our mothers right? Because if we do not, we cannot blame anyone for the curse when it falls on us. Every time there is a discussion on the devastating effects of mining on the environment, the word “Sixth Schedule” comes in to justify mining and it is more shocking to see through media that, even the past and the present government endorsed this view that the Mines and Minerals development & Regulation Act 1957 do not apply in the Sixth Schedule area. Agreed that under the Sixth Schedule, the ownership of land is with the tribal and under the same Constitution, the freedom to use it, was also given to the tribal but in a way that it should not affect others.
Further, not everyone owns a coal mine or limestone quarry. In fact those who had some were already bought by the big players. Just a few days ago I visited a placed where plenty of coal can be seen on the roadside but to my surprise when I entered the village, poverty is clearly visible from the living conditions of the people. When I asked why, I was told that only the rich have coal, not everyone else. In fact with the introduction of machineries in the coal mines even our
manual labour is no longer required by the rich. In West Jaintia Hills, limestone mining started only in the last 10 years or so. Earlier it was extracted only manually for road repairs
in small quantities. But at present with the help of machinery the first thing they do is “destroy the fertile top soil” then extract the limestone to great depths. You want to see the devastation with your own eyes? Use Google map and search Nongtalang (located between Dawki
and Amlarem) where the destruction of greenery is clearly visible and that is a 10 year job for the miner. These guys are richer now and can buy more and bigger machines which means they can work faster. If anyone can stop this madness, it is only his Excellency the Governor of Meghalaya who had witnessed this sore thumb (as he put it) first hand for he needs no vote bank or money to win elections. One thing is sure, with his present views, he will be on a collision
course with the present state government which seems to have a single agenda “mining”. Almost every day we read media reports that the government is trying very hard to find ways how to mine the minerals in the state and even the Supreme Court order on the matter was only
half read by those who are in favour of mining. From what I understand the order is something like, “You can cut the flesh as agreed in the contract but not a drop of blood should be spilled”
Merchant of Venice) .
A concerned citizen of
West Jaintia Hills
(Name withheld on request)
The change we want
We live in a constantly changing world. All the advancements that have been made in the field of science and technology have undeniably changed the way we live and do things. Some changes have been for the better and some for the worse. However technology being amoral has contributed both for the good and evil of society. The question though is, do we really need to change simply for the sake of change, or is it an inevitable thing? It is my personal observation that the men who are supposed to uphold the law and order are part of an institution that is the most corrupt in the state. However, this would not have been possible, if those who make the law are equally or even more corrupt? The executive does not appear to be doing too well either.
We have banking institutions that exist primarily to service the rich and have no concern or responsibility to help the poor. We have educational establishments holding on to a method of learning that is as outdated and unproductive as the people who come out of them. Believe me, we have engineers who cannot even change a light bulb, lawyers who cannot argue a case, doctors who are clueless at what they are doing and teachers who couldn’t care less about their
students. It is therefore up to the present Government to examine the facts and begin to prioritize changes that are absolutely necessary and pivotal. The public can only wait and watch, if the present Government under the leadership of a young and dynamic Chief Minister
will truly begin to walk the talk.