The Burning Issue July 2010

July 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm (Uncategorized)

Meghalaya Times

Bangla embargo on coal exports from NE
Written by the Editor
Saturday, 10 July 2010 11:19

Shillong, July. 09 (PTI) Bangladesh has imposed an embargo on coal exports from Meghalaya and other Northeastern states.
The brick kiln plants in Bangladesh prefer Meghalaya coal, which has low ash content. “But as it is high on sulphur, the Bangladesh Government points out that the coal could be very injurious to the health of the people,” industry sources said.
This is the seventh time in nine years that the Bangladesh Government has imposed the ban.
The embargo, which came into effect on June 30 last, has hit coal exporters in Meghalaya, sources said.
A member of the Meghalaya Coal Exporter Association, Saiban Lamin said around 3,000 tonnes of coal are exported to Bangladesh through the Dawki-Tamabil border.
“The ban has hit exporters. We hope the embargo will be lifted in two to three weeks time,” he said.
Meghalaya exports around five lakh MT of coal,

Assam Tribune

Call to tap iron ore in Assam, Meghalaya

Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, July 7 – In view of surging demands of iron ore in India as well as in neighbouring countries, Assam and Meghalaya should pitch in for better prospecting and also come up with policies which would bring in much needed focus on the mineral.

All over the world, the demand for iron is on the rise, and at present even iron ore with 30 per cent ‘Fe’ content has a market. Such a situation would help Assam and Meghalaya as both states have iron ore which have ‘Fe’ content of 30 per cent or above.

This has been emphasised by noted geologist, Dr Pranavjyoti Deka, who recently handed over a note on this matter to a government agency. He believed it was imperative that the Assam Government took initiative to organise a meet of all stakeholders and experts to formulate a policy and then hammer out an action plan.

He said that ore with low ‘Fe’ content is in demand as part of a blending process in many countries, and in Goa such ore has been mined for export. If the transportation issue can be addressed then similar or better quality iron ore can be exported from Assam and Meghalaya to bring in revenue.

He favoured a thorough survey to ascertain the quality of the iron ore that is supposed to exist in Assam and Meghalaya. He mentioned that till now sizeable deposits have been reported from Karbi Anglong, Goalpara and Dhubri in Assam. Deposits have also been reported from a few sites in Meghalaya of which at least one site contains ‘Fe’ content of over 60 per cent.

On the issue of extracting the mineral from a highly sensitive environment, the geologist said that modern technology can be used to limit the impact on the areas surrounding mining sites. In this regard, he favoured smaller plants which could be connected to railway hubs so that transfer of materials can be done as a seamless process.

Criticising the apathy of the government to do an estimation of iron ore in Assam and Meghalaya, Dr Deka pitched in for a meet of representatives from the Burea of Mines, State government, Ministry of Steel and DoNER. “Let all of them come and help develop the assets in Assam and Meghalaya, which are worth crores of rupees. According to the geologist, a judicious combination of ground-based prospecting and remote sensing could be a sound approach to map the existence of iron ore in the region. He was optimistic that proper surveys would establish the presence of iron ore that is of good ‘Fe’ content in sizeable quantities.

The Shillong Times


The last of the farmers of Lumshnong

By H.H.Mohrmen

It was finally over and the cameras stop rolling; I bade her goodbye and wished her a long and healthy life. Then I realized from the stifled voice of her answer; the deep feeling of emptiness and sense of hopelessness to continue with life. Her response was that of a spirit bereft of the zeal for life. She said why should I live long? Why would I want to live long? What is the point when there is no more land for agriculture? Grandmother Thrin Lamare is the remnant of the last farming community of the lost generation of Lumchnong (normally spelt Lumshnong) village.

She is a jolly good old woman whose smiling face and jovial mood hides more than it reveals and like many of her contemporaries she does not know her age. ‘Neither of my parents can read nor write,’ she told me when I asked how old she is. Hoping to roughly estimate her age by guessing from the age of her children, I asked, how old is your eldest son? ‘Do you for one moment think I can read or write? Do I look like somebody who can read or write?’ was her answer to my question. The unkempt grey hair on her head, the wrinkles on her face and her toothless mouth is the only proof of the hardship that this genteel soul had toiled for so long.

It was in the afternoon when the Secretary Shnong Ma Puson Gympad took me and the crew to meet her. The woman with a frail and forward bending body had just returned from her small garden, the only remaining priceless possession she treasures. She was sitting near the fireplace with fire burning in the hearth and throughout the interview she was busy cutting the bamboo shoots, banana flower and green-chillies she collected to prepare dinner for the entire family. During the conversation, when occasionally smoke started to fume, she would take the bamboo cylinder and blow air on the embers to rekindle the fire while she continued talking to us. She was frank and spoke candidly about the past and her feelings about the predicament the village is in.

She nostalgically recollected the times gone-by when agriculture was the mainstay of the village and no doubt they lived through hard times, but they seldom experienced starvation. In spite of all odds, they practice Jhum cultivation because there are no paddy fields in the terrains of the Narpuh sub-tropical forests and the banks of the Lukha. At times they faced hardships because of poor harvest and they do not have enough rice, so they would cook a few grains of rice with millet and corn to satisfy the family’s hunger, yet they lived to their heart’s content, she recounted. She remembered walking bare-feet and lived in the grace of the nature and the only disease that was prevalent those days was malaria, stomach-aches and fever. Health care, as provided by modern medicines was still a distant dream then; so the medicines they used were those freely available in nature.

Her face brightened, and her smile broadened when she narrated about the recent past two three decades when Lumchnong was famous for its oranges and orchards covered a large part of village. One can still see remnants of these orchards dotting the landscape of Lumchnong, albeit in the shadow of their former glory, but the land does not belong to the villagers anymore. Ma Olbin Shylla an elderly man we met earlier in the morning, smiled as he reminisced how he used to transport trucks of oranges to Silchar and Jowai. Those were the heydays of the orange orchards in Lumchnong and the boom of orange business had benefited all the people in the area. ‘Then, people were gainfully employed throughout the year’ he said. I asked him what he is doing for a livelihood now. He said nothing, since they stopped farming. When asked now that there is no agricultural activity in the village, how do people earn their livelihood?’ He said, ‘earlier our job was either in the woods among the trees or in the fields with the crops, now we just move among people.’

In the Grandma’s kitchen she continues with her chore. I asked her about the young people and whether they are involved in any kind of agricultural activity. The old woman stared at us for a moment and then answered with action, ‘the young people now are busy in one thing only,’ moving her hand in a gesture which implied drinking something from a bottle -‘this’ she said. Puson Gympad and Mario Rymbai who accompanied us, had nothing else to say but laugh and at the same time nodded their heads in agreement. When I asked her about their orchard and plantation in the village, grandma Lamare’s answer was ‘what orchard, what plantation? Every piece of land in the village has been sold to the cement companies. Gympad the secretary of the village dorbar came up with approximate statistics that more than sixty percent of the land in the village and may be in the entire Narpuh elaka is owned by the many cement companies. I think Ma Gympad is very mean in his assessment. The only plot of land owned by most families is the land where their houses stand. The cement companies have literarily bought the entire elaka for a song!

Gympad the young secretary of Lumchnong was obviously very angry and lamented, ‘It seems the Government’s main intention is to quickly rob the eleka of its mineral wealth and not to develop the region as such. Why else would the government permit the construction of 9 cement plants in the area within a radius of 5 kilometers only? In addition to the 9 cement plants there are also a few captive power plants which are operative now. How long will the coal and lime stone last? The term sustainable development, it seems is not in the lexicon of the Government of Meghalaya.

Puson foresees a bleak future for his village because till now no cement companies had even bothered to reclaim the top soil so that people can reuse the land for agricultural activities once the minerals are exhausted. One may ask what happened to the proposed state mining policy? Who can wait for the government of Meghalaya’s mining policy? Will it ever see the light of the day when everybody in the Government from the MP, the CM of the state to the Magistrates and Police officers are mine owners by proxy through their wives or close relatives? Meanwhile the government can insist on the mining companies to device a mechanism to reclaim the land by conserving the top soil and also making it mandatory for every cement and mining company to plant trees as part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). But nothing of that sort is happening. Our leaders are either busy in the business of government toppling or on a voyage to foreign lands while topsoil is on its own journey to Bangladesh.

If companies help to conserve the precious top soil then we can still hope to see agricultural activities in the village sometime in the distant future. But few decades from now and while cement industries are still active in the area, agriculture will be a thing of the past. How long will it take to revive agriculture again is the million dollar question.

Beimen Thin Lamare’s instant response to my usual polite gesture on June 28 was like a thunderbolt from the blue. It dawned on me then, that at the moment I wished her goodbye I also bade farewell to the agricultural activity in the area for she is one of the last among the farming generations of Lumchnong village. (The writer is a research scholar, an elder of the Unitarian Church and member of ICARE)


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