The Burning Issue – May 2010

May 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm (Uncategorized)

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Why Lafarge Limestone Mining Put on Hold-3

Written by the Editor

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 04:42

The Giant’s Gigantic Blunder

G W Lyngdoh

SHILLONG, May 25:

th March 2006, and on the same day, the transfer of lands from the sellers to the buyer. The Lum Mawshun Pvt. Ltd and, from Lum Mawshun Minerals pvt Ltd to the Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd and, the grant of mortgage of these lands in favour of the six international banks by forcibly dispossessing the rightful land owners. This same Deputy Commissioner, held the public hearing on 18th January 2006, as Chairman, which hearing was convened by the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board. the general public on that day raised objections to such public hearings and criticized the meaning of such public hearing as becoming a mere formality because Lafarge had already started its mining operations and the minerals transported to Bangladesh via conveyer belt. The vehement public objection had also been submitted to the Deputy Commissioner; however, it all came to naught. Instead, the DC made out his own proceedings of the public hearing leaving aside the public objections.

The mechanized mining operations include deep hole drillings and blasting. According to locals, the powerful blasts produce very strong vibrations much like powerful earthquake which shake the whole area causing fear of possible damage to houses should the

drillings and blasting be sustained and go on uninterrupted. Further, emission of black smoke and gaseous particles bring out a thick haze, like a blanket, covering the sun rays and preventing sunlight to touch the ground in the areas of operation and their vicinity. The locals are also in fear of serious ecological and environmental consequences where rivers and streams, flora and fauna and water sources in the area will be adversely affected. They also alleged that pregnant mothers, children of tender age and the old folks have been affected. The Shella Action Committee members are of the view that, even if there is any impact emission report by the authorities and government agencies, these are at best, only on paper and in name and, are not specific as to the real results. These reports, they say, invariably benefit the big corporate and never the people at large.

Another serious allegation is that the Lafarge Umiam Company is transporting limestone, shale and silt stone and other unknown minerals in closed wooden boxes through their conveyer belt. It is not known what the closed wooden boxes contain.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court, in paragraph 119, reported in AIR 1997 SC 3297 in the case between Samantha – versus – State of Andhra and others it is clearly mentioned that the Government has no power to grant mining leases for mining purposes in tribal lands under the 6

th schedule to the Constitution of India.

You are mind absorbing sidelights to the Shella versus Lafarge episode that has lasted for nearly a decade. It is of interest to note that the special committee sent to investigate as a fact finding mission came to Shella village on 2

nd April. The coming of the committee members from Delhi that too on Good Friday and leaving the next day was quite intriguing to the people in the area. The Committee supposedly met the locals, and institutions like Shella village Dorbar, members of the churches, a certain women’s organization and so onat Hat Shella in a locality called Sohlap. It is worth mentioning that Shella has nine dongs (localities) in all with their own Tymmen Shnong. The special committee officials never informed the Shella confederacy of their coming and the Shella village Dorbar was also not in the know of their visit. What actually transpired during the Committees two day stay was that it met certain small groups in their own personal capacity sans any authority of the village Dorbar.

Another interesting episode happened during the Court proceedings on 26

th April when senior advocate Harish Salve, who was assisting the Court in the matter, said the mining activities are permitted after the company gets all the environmental compliance reports, adding that, in this case Lafarge obtained environmental clearance by misrepresenting the facts. He said that the company started mining activities before it submitted proper environmental compliance reports. He cited examples of the Supreme Court denying permission on environmental grounds. He said that Lafarge must do a proper job in complying with environmental norms. Making a forthright point Salve said that Lafarge had deep pockets. Or else, “let them wind up and go home” Salve added. He said that a bad precedent would be set if the company is given permission without proper compliance of environmental norms, and in turn, lead to huge loss of bio-diversity.


th schedule of the constitution of India. The object of the 6th schedule is to protect the indigenous tribal communities of the Hills of North East India against oppression and exploitation. But this has been trampled down and relegated to the waste basket by the coming of Lafarge, a giant cement producing company. The Lafarge Umiam mortgaged the land sold to it and the leased land on behalf of Lafarge Surma Bangladesh. What was not conceivable was in the fact that the Khasi Hills ADC through its department of revenue gave an NOC without the Forest Clearance of the forest department of the council. This happened between the years of 1998-2001. It is a glaring fact that it was not in the province of the revenue department to certify that the Shella Confederacy is a non forest land.

The emergence of Lafarge Umiam Mining pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd of Bangladesh has resulted not only in taking away of tribal land by way of leases and sale forever, the tribal lands, it is the large tracts of land also that have been mortgaged to an international consortium of foreign banks that is most disturbing. Such sale consisted of 87 sale deeds in the form of deeds of conveyance and two lease deeds in the name of 55 persons, who have been termed as being claimants only, under the false certificates of a self styled Headman. There are two lease deeds covering a period of 60 and 90 years for 96,000 square meters of land. Whereas, land sold out to the company is a whopping 41/2 lakh square meters. These deeds were duly registered by the Sub-Registrar Sohra Civil-sub-division in complete violation of Section 3(1) and Section 6 of the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act 1971 and Meghalaya government notifications dated 17-5-1978 and 6-9-79 which prohibit transfer of tribal land and which prohibit registration of transfer of tribal land. These lands, sold and leased, to this company have already been mortgaged as security by Lafarge Umiam pvt.ltd by their special resolution dated 29-3-2005 to the off-shore lenders, that is, to six international banks for the loan of $ 153 million borrowed by the Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd of Bangladesh for their cement plant at Chattak, Bangladesh.

Apart from the DFO, Khasi Hills Division issuing a certificate declaring forest and agricultural land as barren wastes, later refuted by officials of the Environment and Forest ministry on representation to the ministry by the Shella Action Committee, the Deputy

Commissioner, East Khasi Hills, as competent authority under the said Act of 1971granted sanction on 13

Why Lafarge Limestone Mining Put on Hold-2: The Giant’s Gigantic Blunder

Written by the Editor

Monday, 24 May 2010 09:30

G W Lyngdoh

SHILLONG, May 23: The above matter listed before the Supreme Court on 26th April 2010 is very sensitive and important and is being closely watched by both the domestic and international media. The matter relates to violation of both environment laws and rights of tribal and indigenous people by the world’s largest cement manufacturing company ‘Lafarge’ of French.

The matter relates to a cross border project in India and Bangladesh. The company has a cement plant at Bangladesh and the entire raw material i.e. limestone is sourced from Shella Confederacy, East Khasi hills District in Meghalaya, India where the company has obtain a mining lease through its Indian Subsidiaries. The limestone is carried across the border by an elevated conveyor belt.

Environment Issue:  In the Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report, the company described the mining site “Wasteland” and “Rocky land which does not support plant” The MoEF granted Environment clearance (in the year 2001) on the basis is no diversion of forest involved”.

Later, the MoEF, on a site inspection in 2006 found the site to be in the midst of thick forests contrary to the description given by the company in EIA. MoEF found that the false disclosure was made with a view to avoid the need of obtaining forest clearance under the Forest Conservation Act. The MoEF directed the company to close its operation in April’2007. Lafarge approached the Supreme Court in I.A.No.  , 1868/2007.

Central Empowered Committee (CEC) submitted report before the Supreme Court in August’2007 in which it has strongly indicted the Khasi Hills Autonomous Council and the local DFO in falsely certifying the lands as ‘’non forest” .CEC has also recommended initiating actions against officers of MoEF for taking action promptly against the user agency on discovery that the lands are forest lands.

However, the CEC recommended that in view of the fait accompli situation, post facto forest clearance may be given subject to payment of 5 times NPV.

The FAC has now recommended diversion of 166 hectares of forest land. The recommendation is before the Supreme Court for its approval.

The amicus is of the view that since we are faced with a fait accompli position, the project should be allowed to continue despite irregularities subject to creation of a SPV in light of the Vedanta’s case.
On 23.11.2007, the Supreme Court as an interim measure allowed the Company to resume its mining activities in view of international agreement.

Shella Action Committee filed the above I.A.No. 2225-2227 in 2008 seeking intervention and probe into the affairs of the company.

On 05.02.2010, the Court directed stay of mining activities by the company. The Company fearing the closure of its cement plant approached both the GOI and GOB (government of Bangladesh) to intervene in the matter. The Attorney General of India appeared and strongly argued for vacating the order of 05.02.2010 citing strained diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh.

The document on record contradicts the arguments of the UOI… (Union of INDIA). The project is not conceived out of any international treaty between India and Bangladesh. This is a commercial venture of a private company funded by international banks. Since the project involved cross border trade, India gave a letter of assurance to facilitate this trade subject to compliance of our domestic laws and regulations. The Company backed by the UOI is arguing that the said letter is an international agreement between the two countries.

Under the directions of the Attorney General, the MoEF conducted a site inspection on 2nd and 3rd of April. The Site Inspection report again confirms that the lands are forest lands. The MoEF, however, instead of recommending fresh EIA inter alia recommended that the Company shall prepare a comprehensive forest rehabilitation and conservation plan covering the project as well as the surrounding area and shall prepare a comprehensive Biodiversity Management Plan to mitigate the possible impacts of mining on the surrounding forest and wildlife.    On 12.04.2010, the Supreme Court had directed the MoEF and the suggestion of the Attorney General for creation of a SPV. The matter is now listed on 26.04.2010.

Land Issue: There is a PIL pending before the Guwahati High Court challenging the transfer of tribal lands in favour of the Company. The lands in Meghalaya, where the mining site and the conveyor belt are located, are tribal lands under the Sixth Scheduled of the Constitution of India. The Meghalaya Land Transfer Regulation Act, 1971 prohibits transfer of tribal lands to non tribals 200 crores except by a previous approval of the competent authority who shall accord such sanction subject to certain conditions which include welfare of tribals and development. Here, the sanction was granted in 2006 much after all the transfer of lands was completed (2002-2004) including mortgage of tribal lands by the company in favour of international consortium of banks to obtain a loan of 153 million USD (admitted fact). The competent authority granted sanction because the revenue department had approved the project. The sanction order does not reflect any independent exercise of mind by the competent authority as to the nature of the land, its ownership and tribal welfare. The Shella Action Committee contends that the Company colluded with the Ex Headman of Shella Village and the Nongtrai Village Durbar and fraudulently obtained transfer of lands in its favour by taking advantage of the fact that there is no proper land tenure system in the region. The Shella Action Committee contends that the actual land owners are illegally dispossessed of their lands because of the failure of the competent authority to exercise care while granting the sanction. The Shella Action Committee has filed a transfer petition (civil) No.277/2010 seeking transfer of the PIL to Supreme Court.

The union of India and the State Govt. is silent on the recommendations of the CEC to initiate action against the guilty officials. The Company is liable to be prosecuted under section 15 and 16 of the Environment Protection Act. Moreover the land disputes needs to be adjudicated before the project is allowed to continue.

So far, the project is allowed to continue only by virtue of the interim order dated 23.11.2007.

The Shella Action Committee is not against development of the region. But when we talk about development in an eco sensitive state, it must be sustainable development. The GOI’s stand that it would affect its relationship with Bangladesh cannot be a reason for not determining, if the project is environmentally benign in an eco sensitive region.

It is because of our objections that the Attorney General has suggested for creation of SPV. However, we insist that this is not enough. The fresh EIA is compulsory and the project should await the outcome of the land dispute.

We request you, therefore to take a political decision that no mining should be permitted without a revised Environmental Clearance on the basis of a fresh EIA study and public hearing. You may kindly give necessary instructions to the counsel for state of Meghalaya appearing before the Supreme Court. On 26th April 2010 the advocates for the Shella Action Committee Mr P.S.Narasimha, Senior Advocate Supreme Court and Mr Somiram Sarma Advocate made a very significant deposition before the Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Mr K.G.Balakrishnan. The brief to the submission is as follows.

http://www.meghalayatimes.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12429:why-lafarge-limestone-mining-put-on-hold-2-the-giants-gigantic-blunder&catid=44:front-page&Itemid=28

The Giant’s Gigantic Blunder

Written by the Editor

Monday, 17 May 2010 09:01

G W Lyngdoh

SHILLONG, May 16: The Lafarge Surma Cement of Bangladesh was first noticed in 2002-3 when after several years of its own investigation came to understand that limestone deposits in the Shella confederacy was not only plentiful but of high grade quality which could sustain its operations in the neighboring country for many decades to come. Its foray into the limestone bearing areas of the confederacy began since the late nineties but became in earnest when the company, through its subsidiary, Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd., began to acquire land by way of purchase and lease in 2002-3. The acquired lands were mortgaged to Lafarge umiam mining in March 2005. Subsequently, and in a short period of time, the Deputy Commissioner, East Khasi Hills, granted sanction for transfer and mortgage to the international banks or, in legal parlance, the offshore lenders on the 13th of March 2006. This action of the Deputy Commissioner has been interpreted in legal circles as being in violation of the Meghalaya transfer of Land Regulation Act, 1971 and Government of Meghalaya Notifications of 1978-79. It may be noted here that Shella village and its surrounding areas are rich in mineral resources like, limestone, shale and silt stone etc. Shella and surrounding areas are tribal lands under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution and under the jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council.

From 2002 to 2005 eighty seven (87) nos. of sale deeds were duly registered by the Sub-Registrar of Sohra Civil Sub-Division The agreement executed by the Shella village dorbar and Lafarge Umiam Mining pvt. Ltd was authenticated by the Additional Judge, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council Court in 2007. The end result to the above wheeling and dealings was that, the genuine owners of the lands mortgaged to off shore lender or, foreign banks, had no way out but to take the issue to Court, that is, to the Guwahati High Court being the Principal Court at Guwahati, being a subject matter of alienation of tribal lands to a foreign multinational giant which is reputed to be among the top cement producers in the world.

In another significant development during the early stages of land acquisition by Lafarge the Divisional Forest Officer, Khasi Hills Division, of the forest department, government of Meghalaya issued a certificate declaring that that the lands in Shella village were barren wastelands. To top it all, the official had been accused of handing over the certificate direct to Lafarge without observing the rules by showing the certification made to the higher authorities of the forest department. This failure on the part of the official to observe proper procedure has sent shock waves not only to legal circles in the State but also to his own parent department. On a complaint by the Shella Action Committee, an association of land owners in the area, to the ministry of environment and forests the ministry deputed its own officers to make a spot inspection at Shella village.

The findings of the officials of the MOEF are quite a revelation. The officials found that the so called barren wasteland was in actual fact, agricultural land, and crop plantation land and, with virgin fertile soil having dense forest of huge trees, medium size and small trees, a mixture of big and small trees that could, by no stretch of imagination be classed as barren waste. Consequently, the ministry ordered closure of all non-forest activities of the company in the areas in and around Shella village, in such areas as found to be forest, agriculture and crop lands. As was expected, Lafarge acted immediately on closure of its activities and petitioned the Supreme Court. Hence the case remains pending for disposal.

In what is seen to be of earth shattering significance is in the fact that the mortgage of tribal lands is to cover the loan of 153 million US dollars borrowed by Lafarge Surma Cements Ltd., of Bangladesh. The above company is a foreign company registered in Bangladesh with its head office in the capital city Dhaka. It is significant to note that the Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd. and Lum Mawshun Minerals Pvt. Ltd. are the subsidiaries of Lafarge Surma Cement Ltd.of Bangladesh.

According to the Shella Action Committee of Land Owners and their lawyers representing the former in both the High Court and the Supreme Court there are certain pertinent points to be observed in the case of Shella Action Committee verses Lafarge Umiam and the Khasi Hills ADC. These are; 1) that the Sixth Scheduled prohibits the transfer of tribal land to a non-tribal, and 2) that the present case may be read as precedent with Samatha case of Andhra Pradesh, 3) that mortgage of tribal land is in violation of the Meghalaya Land Transfer Regulation Act 1971, where sale, lease, and mortgage means transfer of land and therefore is in violation of this act, 4) that interference by political high ups like Mr Jairam Ramesh, who is Minister of Environment and Forest, Government of India should be in favour of mining in the Shella Area when the matter is sub-judice.

http://www.meghalayatimes.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12128:the-giants-gigantic-blunder&catid=44:front-page&Itemid=28

Proposal to mine uranium in BNP rejected, govt asked to close illegal mines

Written by the Editor (Meghalaya Times)

Sunday, 16 May 2010 14:32

Staff Reporter

SHILLONG, May. 14: The Garo Hills Anti Mining Forum (GHAMF) has hailed the decision of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) to reject a proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for exploratory drilling for uranium in Balpakram National Park.

The NBWL has also pressed the Meghalaya Government to ensure that all illegal coal mines in the vicinity of Balpakram are shut down with immediate effect.

These decisions were taken at a meeting of the NBWL held on Friday.

The GHAMF has congratulated Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for “having stood by his reputation of being a friend of the people of the north east and of taking bold decisions.”

The forum also praised the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) for having played a critical role in spearheading the anti-uranium mining campaign.

The GHAMF also expressed appreciation to the Chief Minister Dr. Mukul Sangma for “carrying our voice to the Prime Minister’s Office” adding “The moral support of our local MLA Mr. Satto Marak has been an important ally in our campaign”.
The forum also thanked Sanjay Upadhyay and Shilpa Chohan of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm, Sengrak Marak, Salesa Nengminza, Kashmira Kakati and Sally Walker of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group for their support.

However, the forum also condemned the chief wildlife warden of Meghalaya for having given clearance to the project. It has urged the state government to replace the warden with “an active and conscientious chief wildlife warden”.
The GHAMF has resolved to launch a series of vigorous campaigns in Garo Hills against illegal private coal and limestone mines and has also urged the public to support the campaigns.

http://www.meghalayatimes.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12102:proposal-to-mine-uranium-in-bnp-rejected-govt-asked-to-close-illegal-mines-&catid=44:front-page&Itemid=28

Ramesh rejects proposal for uranium mining

BS Reporter / New Delhi May 15, 2010, 1:25 IST

Weathering the political storm over his controversial remarks, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh was back in action today as he rejected a proposal from the Department of Atomic Energy for exploratory drilling for uranium in the South Garo Hills of Meghalaya.

Chairing the 19th standing committee meeting of the National Board on Wildlife, Ramesh acknowledged that the country needed to augment domestic uranium supplies. However, due to the rampant illegal mining in the region which had hurt the sentiments of the local population, the committee decided not to allow any further exploitation of the region for its rich natural resources.

The committee also discussed a report prepared by one of its members, Asad Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society, on illegal private coal mines around the Balphakram National Park, where mining activity is maximum.

The report, which gives a detailed account of the rampant illegal mining in the area has urged the central government to take up the issue with the state government. “Such mining has severe implications for the social fabric of the state, health of its people, immigration, apart from environmental damage,” it says.

Mining has to be stopped at all the sites to prevent ecological damange to the landscape. It is a matter of great concern that the state seems to have lost all control over this region, says the report. “After visiting the area I found it gives the appearance of an untamed wild frontier where anyone can occupy the land and loot the natural resources,” says Rahmani.

The report describes that mining is done by untrained labour in a “rat-hole fashion”. “A hole is excavated on the hillside, sometimes up to 60 to 100 metres deep and coal is extracted manually and brought out as headload and dumped in the nearest open area, mostly roads,” it says.

http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/ramesh-rejects-proposal-for-uranium-mining/395037/

Uranium mining blocked

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (The Telegraph)

New Delhi, May 14: A national panel of wildlife experts today rejected a proposal from the department of atomic energy for uranium exploration on the Rongcheng plateau in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills.The standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife decided to reject the proposal for exploratory drilling in view of the sentiments of the local people and representations from civil society groups, the environment ministry said.The Rongcheng plateau falls in the Balpakram National Park, home to elephants, black bear, leopards, deer and the red panda, one of the rarest animals in the world.Several green groups and NGOs have campaigned against a proposal for exploratory drilling, arguing that it would harm the bio-diversity in the park.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100515/jsp/nation/story_12452005.jsp

DAE to shelve its Meghalaya plans

Times of India

THE DEPARTMENT of atomic energy will have to shelve its plans to augment the domestic supply of uranium from Meghalaya. The standing committee of the National Board on Wildlife has rejected the department’s proposal to undertake exploratory drilling for uranium inside the Balphakram national park in western Meghalaya at its meeting on Friday. The decision was taken in view of the sentiments of local people and the opposition from civil society groups, even though environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who chaired the meeting, acknowledged the need to enhance the domestic supply of uranium.

The DAE had sought permission to commence exploratory drilling in Rangcheng plateau inside Balphakram national park in South Garo Hills district. Incidentally, the Uranium Corporation of India, the sole prospecting and mining utility under the DAE, has not been able to extract uranium ore from Domasiat mines in West Khasi Hills district Meghalaya.

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=ETNEW&BaseHref=ETD/2010/05/15&PageLabel=2&EntityId=Ar00202&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T

Wildlife board rejects uranium mining project

Special Correspondent (Hindu)

NEW DELHI: A uranium mining project in Meghalaya proposed by the Department of Atomic Energy has been rejected by the National Board on Wildlife (NBWL) due to strong opposition from local communities and civil society groups.

The decision was taken after detailed discussions by the Standing Committee of the NBWL which met on Friday. According to an official release, the proposal was rejected despite the fact “that the country urgently needs to augment domestic uranium supplies,” an admission made by the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh who chaired the meeting.

The project proposed exploratory drilling for uranium in the Rongcheng Plateau in Balphakram National Park in the South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.

http://www.hindu.com/2010/05/15/stories/2010051565041800.htm

Meghalaya uranium mining plan rejected

Assam Tribune

NEW DELHI, May 14 (IANS): The Environment Ministry today rejected a proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy to mine for uranium in Meghalaya’s Balphakram National Park following opposition from local people who contended it will affect the ecosystem.

The decision was taken at the standing committee meeting of the National Board on Wildlife (NBW) chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh here.

“After a detailed discussion, the board decided to reject the proposal for exploratory drilling for uranium in Rongcheng Plateau in Balphakram National Park in South Garo Hills district of the State,” said Ramesh.

The board took this decision keeping in view the sentiments of the local people and a number of representations received from local civil society groups, he added.

The board also decided to press the State Government to immediately ban all mining and road construction activities within the park area; strict regulation of all coal mines in the district and implementation of proper mining plans to ensure that local people avail the greatest benefit.

http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=may1510/oth07

Mining along public roads prohibited

Written by the Editor

Thursday, 13 May 2010 11:29

Our Correspondent

NONGSTOIN, May. 12: The District Magistrate, West Khasi Hills, MR Synrem, in an order under section 144 CrPC, has prohibited random extraction of coal near public roads on Borsohra, Rajaju, Nonghyllam, Nongiri and Nongkulang, to avoid damage to the roads.

The order also stated that such attempts lead to destruction of roads and endanger vehicular traffic and also result in public inconvenience

‘New approach’ to uranium mining proposed

Assam Tribune

Raju Das

SHILLONG, May 8 – Meghalaya Government would adopt a “new approach” to try finding a solution to people’s fears about health and environment hazard, arising from Uranium mining.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said that he had a “fruitful interaction” with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early this week about the proposed Uranium mining in Meghalaya and also other issues.

“The Prime Minister has assured that all necessary instructions would be given to relevant Ministries (concerning Uranium mining) for building up a consensus on this issue in the best interest of the people of Meghalaya in particular and India in general,” Sangma said during a press briefing yesterday.

Sangma said, as part of the new approach, complete engagement of all sections of the people including civil societies, NGOs, experts would be sought through discussions, seminars and workshops on the issue.

“The discussions and seminars would seek to find out whether there is a solution to the apprehension of the people as far as impact on health and environment issues vis-à-vis the proposed Uranium mining is concerned,” Sangma said.

Several NGOs and political parties in the State are opposed to mining of Uranium in West Khasi Hills district fearing health and environment hazard.

Govt will adopt new approach on mining issues: Mukul

Meghalaya Times

Written by the Editor
Saturday, 08 May 2010 09:29

Staff Reporter

Shillong, May. 07: Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma has said that his government will adopt a new approach to the issue of uranium mining in the state. “I am not telling anybody that we are going ahead with uranium mining,” Dr Sangma said.

The Chief Minister was briefing the press on his recent visit to the national capital, New Delhi.
The Chief Minister said that he discussed the proposed uranium mining issue in the state.
Dr. Sangma said that the government will address the health and environmental concerns and would also like to take into confidence the stake holders like the people living in the mining area, NGOs and the citizens before coming to a decision on the question of whether to mine uranium.

He also said that his government will seek the consensus of the stake holders by organising seminars and workshops to enlighten the people about the issue of uranium mining. “We are trying to seek the help of experts to find out whether there is a solution to the apprehensions of the people as far as impact on health and environmental issues vis-à-vis the proposed uranium mining is concerned,” the Chief Minister said.

During his meeting with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the Chief Minister apprised him of the economic and financial status of the state. He informed the Prime Minister that the present government in Meghalaya would lay more emphasis on income generation schemes for the poor including the small and marginal farmers with special emphasis on economic empowerment of women.

The Chief Minister said that his government will lay more emphasis in the development of pisciculture. “We will be involving small and marginal farmers and will try to utilise their land resources for rearing of fish,” Dr Sangma said. He informed that 8,000 farmers from all districts of the state will benefit from this scheme.

As part of the government’s initiative to uplift the economic conditions of the poor, a financial inclusion programme will be set off wherein the poor, small and marginal farmers will be given seed money of Rs 5,000 to begin some income generating programmes. Around 30,000 families will benefit from this programme.

Dr Sangma also said that in his meeting with the Planning Commission, he has sought special assistance for education over and above the planned assistance. “Since most schools in the state are privately run, we are trying to provide more emphasis in the area,” Mukul said.

He also laid emphasis on the harnessing of water bodies in the state for generating power. “We are looking to harness the potentialities of rivulets, streams and other water bodies, to reclaim the catchment areas which are depleting and converting them into assets,” he stated.

He said that the government was making efforts to tap energy through small hydel projects. “Our government is making an effort to identify areas for the purpose of generating renewable and green energy,” Dr Sangma said.

The Chief Minister said that the government will invite developers for harnessing energy in the state which will in turn provide revenue to the state exchequer and employment to the unemployed.

On the unemployment problem in the state, the Chief Minister said that he had discussions with officials of the Planning Commission and that his government is looking to address the issue. During the meeting with the commission, he laid stressed on developing the tourism industry in the state.

Dr Sangma said that his government will provide support to prospective entrepreneurs of the state with financial assistance for development of tourism especially in the hospitality industry.
The Chief Minister also discussed the long pending issue of the Shillong By-Pass and the four laning of National Highway 40.

He informed that the Central Government has assured the state government that expeditious action will be taken to speed up the projects. The issue of the Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura road which was accorded National Highway status in the year 2004, was also discussed.

PM: No force over uranium

OUR CORRESPONDENT (The Telegraph)

Shillong, May 7: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has “assured” Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma that all “necessary instructions” will be given to relevant ministries for building a “consensus” in the state on the contentious issue of uranium mining.Briefing the media here, Sangma said during a meeting with Singh in New Delhi on Wednesday, he had submitted his views on uranium mining emphasising the “new approach”.“New approach includes complete engagement of all sections of society, including civil society and NGOs through discussions, interactions, seminars involving experts to find out whether there is a solution to the people’s concern over issues pertaining to health and environment vis-à-vis uranium mining,” Sangma said.The chief minister said he had impressed upon Singh the need for complete engagement of all people for evolving a “consensus”.Sangma said he had also discussed how the state can reap maximum benefits if, through proper approach, the resources can be tapped.Singh had assured that all necessary instructions would be given to the relevant ministries for building a consensus on the issue of uranium mining, he said.When asked what the government would do on the issue in the absence of a consensus, Sangma said: “I would not like to presume anything at this juncture, but we should have optimism.”

The meeting between the chief minister and the Prime Minister comes days after the Meghalaya government decided to keep “in abeyance“ the proposed “exploratory drilling” of uranium in Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills district.

When asked about the fate of the Joint Committee on Uranium Mining in Meghalaya (JCUMM) formed last November under the D.D. Lapang administration, Sangma said: “Whenever a new government assumes office, it is taken for granted that all political appointments and bodies made by the preceding government get automatically dissolved.”

Sangma hinted that his government would reconstitute the JCUMM, a body comprising NGOs for and against uranium mining and other government officials, to look into various issues including the health and environment aspects of the proposed uranium project in West Khasi Hills district.

On May 5, Union minister of state for science and technology and earth sciences, Prithviraj Chavan, stated in the Lok Sabha that the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research had identified 17,252 tonnes of high grade in situ uranium resources in Meghalaya.

Chavan had said full-capacity production from the proposed uranium project at Kylleng Pyndensohiong Mawthabah in West Khasi Hills district could meet about 20 per cent of the indigenous requirement.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100508/jsp/northeast/story_12424109.jsp

Uranium issues resurface

Written by the Editor (Meghalaya Times)

Thursday, 06 May 2010 11:43

Thomas Lim It is now once again clear that the issue of uranium mining in the state is not going to settle down that easily. Earlier it was focused on West Khasi Hills, especially in Mawthabah, Nongtnger, Kyllengpyndengsohiong, where uranium was spotted, not the proposed Uranium Exploratory drilling from a village called Rongcheng, South Garo Hills that is at Balpakram National Park.
The earlier stand off between the pro and anti mining groups come to some conclusive settlement by keeping the mining in abeyance, and Joint Committee on Uranium Mining in Meghalaya (JCUMM), to work out  a proper strategies and planning undertaken by the authorities concerned and taking into confidence the general public and the NGO leaders who have to be convincingly educated about what will happen if the mineral is mined.

Strategies and planning are important while handling this issue since in Meghalaya, the under current, specifically regarding uranium, is definitely more a mind game rather than crusade, be it for pro or anti mining.
Now in the case of South Garo Hills, the similar mind game could be witnessed, where the NGOs, including the newly formed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), and now the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have raised the slogan: “Garo villagers ready to shed blood; no compromise on mining.”

The mind game is all about how to motivate the innocent habitants of the uranium rich villages into joining either of the groups. By now, a huge percentage of the villagers are well versed of the effects and impacts of mining uranium. To begin with, Rev. PBM Basaiawmoit, H S Lyngdoh, and other well-meaning individuals and leaders started the crusade against mining by accumulating visual and print reports from other states and countries on the ill effects of uranium. This sowed the seeds of fear about the mineral and its mining among the gullible villagers who until then had not known that they are going to be at the centre-stage of a decade’s long controversy.

Then the threats from militants groups which are alleged to have demanded crores of Rupees from the UCIL and the villagers in case they permit the government to extract the ore to be processed into ‘yellow cake’. This was followed by the practice of smuggling raw uranium (or what some persons involved in this ‘trade’ thought was uranium) to other parts of the country ostensibly to be routed to other countries, possibly to be handed over to militant groups who have a  huge desire to own some of this mineral.

In between all this, the uranium mining issue became a political golden goose for several aspiring individuals some of whom have already seated themselves almost permanently in the corridors of power. Ironically, if the uranium mining issue is not kept alive through sentimental rhetoric some of these leaders are sure to lose the elections and be come unemployed.  The innocent villagers in West Khasi Hills and now South Garo Hills are yet to recognise this factor but of late, there are indications that all of them are not as unaware as some individuals thought they are. Whether this will be positive or negative for the state government’s dreams to come true is a question that still lacks an intelligent answer.

In this mind game, the state government was a loser till now until they hit upon the idea of placating the villagers to accept the mining activities with the promise of all round development which is now being initiated by the UCIL in connivance with the state government. In fact, the state government has no other option but to allow the mining since there are multi crores of Rupees at the end of the rainbow. The government cannot afford to lose sight of that especially in cash starved times like these.

On the other hand, if the issue is kept kicking and alive, several persons, old and new, will be in the State Legislature in 2013. So, the mind game has to continue.
The uranium issue being a mind game, is it not the right time for the state government   to bring in uranium experts or scientists to educate both the pressure groups and the villagers instead of wasting the time on confabulations on how to tackle the pressure groups? Tackling the pressure groups with the might of the law will be only a temporary solution. One can definitely find a sound logic in the demand by pressure groups that the government should publish a White Paper on the health hazards or the lack of it induced by uranium mining.

With the pressure groups having been split on the mining issue, the Centre should take the lead in publishing the White Paper since that would be the best way to convince one and all.

http://www.meghalayatimes.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11631:uranium-issues-resurface&catid=39:editorial&Itemid=30

Mukul tip to PM on uranium issue

The Sentinel

Staff Correspondent
SHILLONG, May 7: Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has impressed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the need to have a dialogue between the civil society, NGOs and experts to remove the apprehensions of the people over the vexed issue of uranium mining in the State.

In view of the opposition to the proposed surveying of the uranium deposits in Balpakram bio-reserve in South Garo Hills and the belligerent stand by Khasi Hills-based NGOs against the proposed extraction of uranium ore in Mawthabah area of West Khasi Hills, the Chief Minister told newsmen today that he had apprised the Prime Minister of a new approach to finding a way to remove the apprehensions expressed by the people.

“The new approach includes complete engagement of all sections of the people through discussions, interactions, seminars and workshops to find a solution to the apprehensions of the people over health and environmental issues,” said Sangma.

The Chief Minister said he had briefed the Prime Minister on the importance of a consensus on the issue of uranium mining that should bring maximum benefit to the rest of the people of the State and the nation as a whole.
Sangma indicated that there would be no hasty decision on the issue.

The Sentinel had on Tuesday reported that the Chief Minister would prefer going with the voice of the people on the uranium mining issue.

The proposed uranium mining in Mawthabah, West Khasi Hills has for long been a thorn in successive governments’ flesh but the proposed surveying of the uranium deposits in Balpakram bio-reserve has only added to the problem. Amid the opposition, the Chief Minister said the Union ministries concerned had been directed by the PMO’ office to aid the State in enlightening the government, NGOs and civil society and to develop a pragmatic consensus on the issue.

Consensus must before uranium mining, says Mukul

Govt to adopt ‘new approach’

Shillong Times

08-05-10
By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: Ruling out the possibility of uranium mining in the State without the consent of public, Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma on Friday stressed on the need to adopt a ‘new approach’ to find out a solution to the apprehensions of the people as far as impact on health and environmental issues are concerned.

Talking to media persons here on Friday, the Chief Minister, who recently held a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on this controversial issue, emphasized on the need to engage civil societies and NGOs to allay the apprehensions of the public.

Dr Sangma said he impressed upon the Prime Minister that it was necessary for evolving a consensus before commencing the proposed mining project.

Asked what does he mean by the ‘new approach’, the Chief Minister said, “The new approach includes complete engagement of all cross sections of people to evolve a consensus on the uranium mining.”

He said that complete engagement of the people was necessary on the issue so that the people could discuss the benefit that the state would reap from the uranium project.

Dr Singh during the meeting with the Chief Minister had also assured that the direction would be given concerned ministries to support the approach of building a consensus on the issue.

“We have to address the concerns before going ahead with the project. We have to find out the answers to the apprehensions,” the chief minister said, ruing that despite reports of various committees and house panel, a public consensus has not yet been arrived. It may be mentioned that a public consensus could not been arrived into uranium mining in Mawthabah, West Khasi Hills district after Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) along with other same like-minded organizations opposed it on the ground of health related issue. On the other hand, another organisation — Association of Meghalaya for Development and Advancement (AMDA) — is supporting the mining of uranium saying, “it would bring economic development to the district and as well as to the State as a whole.

Similarly, the Department of Atomic Energy, which is proposing to conduct exploratory drilling of uranium at Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills district, is facing strong opposition from various anti-mining groups.

Last month, the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife, headed by the Prime Minister, recommended the exploratory drilling for uranium in the ‘sacred’ park.

South Asian Primate Network (SAPN) letter to Shri Jairam Ramesh

To,                                                                                                                              5 May 2010

Shri Jairam Ramesh

The Hon’ble Minister for Environment and Forests

New Delhi, India

Sub: Proposal to denotify part of Balpakram National Park, Meghalaya; Primate Values

Dear Sir,

It has been brought to our notice that the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau in Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya, South Garo Hills to prospect for uranium.

We’d like to inform you that the Balpakram National Park, among its rich biodiversity, also holds important populations of 7 species of primates. Of these, the park is an especially critical habitat for the stump-tailed macaque. There are fewer than 250 animals and it is is therefore Critically Endangered in India. Two other species are Globally Endangered (hoolock gibbon and capped langur); and two more species (northern pig-tailed macaque and Assamese macaque) were assessed by the IUCN Primate Specialist Group in 2003 as Endangered in India. Four of the species are also on Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. Summary details in table is attached for your kind perusal.

In view of Balpakram NP being one of the few remaining large, contiguous habitats in India that holds viable populations of several endangered primates, we request you to use the authority vested in you as the Minister of Environment and Forests of India, to refuse this ill-advised move for denotification of an integral part of the Park. The wildlife of this unique National Park must not be endangered at any cost. Your intervention in this will be crucial to retaining the sanctity of the National Park.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Kashmira Kakati, Member, IUCN SSC PSG, Author

Sally Walker, Coordinator for South Asia, IUCN SSC Primate Sp Group and signatory

Supported by

Sanjay Molur, Coordinator for South Asia, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr Anthony Rylands, Co-Chair, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Dilip Chetry, Member, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Jayanta Das, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr.Jihosuo Biswas, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Anwarul Choudhery, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Govindasamy Agoramoorthy, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Rauf Ali, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Parimal Ch. Bhattacharjee, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Jihosuo Biswas, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Joydeep Bose, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Debojyoti Chakraborty, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Dilip Chetry, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Anil Kumar Chhangani, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Jayanta Das, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Atul Kumar Gupta, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Praveen Karanth, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Ajith Kumar, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Awadesh Kumar, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Honnavalli N. Kumara, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Rekha Medhi, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Surendra M. Mohnot, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Sachin Anil Punekar, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Durgh Singh Rajpurohit, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Sunita Ram, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. K.K. Ramachandran, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Narayan Sharma, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Mewa Singh, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Anindya Sinha, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Ghan Shyam Solanki, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Charles Southwick, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Arun Srivastava, IUCN SSC PSG

Dr. Govindaswamy Umapathy, IUCN SSC PSG

Balpakram National Park, among its rich biodiversity, also holds important populations of 7 species of primates, nearly all of which are threatened.

Sl. No Name Area of occupancy (km²) Population trend(Total Population in India) Status IUCN Status in India Status – Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 Number of PAs NEIndia presence confirmed
1 Western Hoolock GibbonHoolock hoolock 605 Declined by >50% in last 50 years(610) Endangered Endangered Schedule 1Part 1 25*
2 Capped langurTrachypithecus pileatus pileatus <3500 Declining(<600) Endangered Endangered Schedule 1 Part II 5
3 Slow LorisNycticebus bengalensis >2001 Declining(Unknown) Data Deficient Data Deficient Schedule 1, Part 1 16
4 Stump-tailed macaqueMacaca arctoides <500 Declining(<250) Vulnerable Critically Endangered Schedule II 4
5 Assamese macaqueMacaca assamensis assamensis >2001 Declining(<425) Vulnerable Endangered Schedule II 16
6 Northern Pig-tailed macaqueMacaca leonina >2000 Declining(<5000) Vulnerable Endangered Schedule II 22
7 Rhesus macaqueMacaca mulatta >2000 Not known(>100,000) Lower Risk Least Concern Schedule 1, Part 1 21

IUCN speaks out against Balpakram mining proposal

07-05-10

Shillong Times

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The South Asian Primate Network (SAPN), a representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has urged the Ministry of Environment and Forests to reconsider the proposal by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau in Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya, South Garo Hills for exploratory drilling of uranium.

In a letter addressed to Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, the Primate Specialist Group claimed that Balpakram National Park is home to seven species of primates. Of these, the Park is a critical habitat for the Stump-tailed Macaque, of which there are fewer than 250 animals remaining in the country. Two other species — the Hoolock Gibbon and Capped Langur – are recognized as globally endangered while two other species — the northern Pig-tailed Macaque and Assamese Macaque — were assessed by the IUCN Primate Specialist Group in 2003 as endangered in India.

The group, further, mentioned that since Balpakram is one of the few remaining large, contiguous habitats in India which holds viable population of several endangered primates, there was an immediate need to do away with all proposals for uranium mining in the National Park area.

AMDA to exit uranium panel

05-05-10
Shillong Times

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The Association of Meghalaya for Development Advancement (AMDA) will formally seek its withdrawal from the Joint Committee on Uranium Mining on Meghalaya (JCUMM) on Thursday.

Informing this on Wednesday, AMDA president Wonder Myrthong said despite its withdrawal from the Committee the Association would request the State Government to include it in all the visits to the proposed uranium mining sites either in the State or outside.

The Association will also appeal for allowing mining of uranium at the earliest, he said.

Earlier on Monday, Deputy Chief Minister Bindo M Lanong, in-charge of Mining and Geology, had indicated that the Association would no longer want to be a part of the JCUMM.

The anti-uranium mining groups including the KSU have been asking the State Government to exclude AMDA, the ”pro-uranium group”, from the Committee.

Govt allays fear over BNP mining

05-05-10
By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The State Government on Tuesday allayed the concern of NGOs and people of Garo Hills over the Centre’s move to go for exploratory mining for uranium in Balpakram National Park (BNP) saying that “nothing will be done which hurts the people’s sentiment.”

Giving a strong hint that the State Government would not give its consent for the proposed drilling in the national park, Forest and Environment Minister Dr RC Laloo said, “The Government will not take a major decision on the issue without the consent of the people.”

“No drilling will be carried out in the park without the consent of the public.”

The minister even admitted that drilling inside the park would affect the fauna of the park as loud noise from the drilling is likely to disturb the wild animals.

According to Dr Laloo, the Chief Minister has taken a correct decision by leaving it on the public to decide on the controversial issue of exploratory drilling for uranium mining in BNP.

The Chief Minister recently assured a GSU delegation that the consent of the people would be taken before taking any decision on the matter.

Dr Laloo, while indicating his opposition to the proposed exploratory drilling in BNP, pointed out that the basic objective of declaring the area in Garo Hills as a national park was to preserve the flora and fauna. “Uranium mining will hamper the objective,” he said.

The exploratory drilling inside the park has been opposed by various NGOs and also political parties.

Mining Dept not informed about keeping mining in abeyance

Meghalaya Times
Written by the Editor

Tuesday, 04 May 2010 03:36

Staff Reporter

Shillong, May. 03:
Call it a communication gap or a total disregard for the concerned department, but it is learnt that the Mining and Geology Department is in the dark about the decision to keep in abeyance the exploratory drilling for uranium ore in Balpakram National Park, Garo Hills.

“The department is not in the know of the matter in Garo Hills,” Deputy Chief Minister in-charge Mining and Geology, Bindo M Lanong, said.

However, he added: “He (Dr Mukul Sangma) being the Chief Minister of the state is at liberty to take any decision on his own.”

Recently, the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) met the Chief Minister urging him to put off the proposed exploratory drilling at the park.

Lanong also stated that since the GSU met the government only on April 29 last, “the order to keep the exploratory mining in abeyance may be in transit”.

The Mining and Geology Minister has, however, instructed his officials in the department to seek information about the memorandum submitted by the GSU.

When asked whether the government would use the same measures for uranium mining in Garo Hills as it has done in the case of West Khasi Hills, Lanong said: “We cannot have two yardsticks. We will have to deal with it by the same yardstick.”

He also admitted that the uranium mining issue is a controversial subject and has to be accorded special attention. “Mining of uranium ore is a sensitive issue. It is not like mining of coal or iron-ore, we will have to look at it from a different angle and take into consideration the pros and cons,” he said.

Earlier, several NGOs from Garo Hills have opposed the Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) proposal to conduct its drilling exercise inside the park.

Last week the influential GSU met the Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma, who decided to move the Centre against the proposed exploratory drilling inside Balpakram National Park.

Uranium unites

Shillong Times Editorial

03-05-10

The news that Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is intending to conduct exploratory mining in Balpakram, Garo Hills has raised the hackles of social organisations across the state. Balpakram is not only a wild life sanctuary but also a repository of Garo indigenous beliefs. Attempts are now made to take a united stance on this issue. Recently the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) called on their counterpart the Khasi Students Union (KSU) which has maintained a consistent stand insofar as the mining of uranium in West Khasi Hills is concerned, to garner support for their cause. Since then several other citizens’ groups have been formed, a prominent one being led by NCP leader PA Sangma, to protest against uranium mining. Letters have also been written to the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment to halt this extractive mining process. Arguments have often been advanced by the pro-uranium mining lobby that West Khasi Hills is a backward outpost and that the coming of UCIL with its mining agenda in that area would bring the much-needed development in the form of road infrastructure and health services besides other benefits. But UCIL’s own track record in terms of safe mining and radiation standards are still not well established. Jaduguda is hardly a good example although UCIL would have us believe the contrary. Besides, why should development of a certain area be at the cost of ecological and environmental hazards which are bound to happen considering that the areas under consideration are forested biospheres. The Union government’s hurry to harness uranium for nuclear energy is well appreciated but its approach towards the mining of this contentious ore leaves much to be desired. The Centre is, as always negotiating with the state government without taking cognisance of the fact that in Meghalaya land belongs to individuals and therefore the process of acquiring land for mining purposes within such individually owned land is fraught with all sorts of problems. Perhaps that is why the UCIL’s eyes have turned towards Balpakram which is already under the National Wild Life Board. Thankfully the citizens here are aware of their rights and of the fact that they need to negotiate for safe mining procedures before they allow uranium to get out of their territory.

There are already enough examples of how land has been devastated by unscientific coal mining in Meghalaya. But this process can no longer be halted. What is unfortunate is that even NGOs are not keen to move the Government and the judiciary for reclaiming of land abandoned by coal miners. These abandoned mines are like volcanic craters and potentially dangerous in the long run. So is unregulated limestone mining. It is ironic that the state is still wrestling with a mining policy. Will this policy ever see the light of day?

KSU, GSU join hands to fight uranium projects

Shillong Times

03-05-10

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The anti-uranium mining movement in Meghalaya has gained momentum with two strong student organizations of Khasi Hills and Garo Hills — KSU and GSU – deciding to join hands for the cause.

While KSU has long been protesting the proposed uranium mining by UCIL at Mawthabah in West Khasi Hills, the proposed exploratory mining inside Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills led to opposition from GSU and various other organizations.

The two student bodies have now decided to put up a joint fight against their common cause – to oppose uranium mining in Meghalaya.

The decision was taken after the two organizations had a long and detailed discussion on the sensitive issue on Friday last, KSU general secretary Hamlet Dohling said.

“We have all agreed that we would not allow the government to give permission to the concerned agency for implementing the uranium mining projects,” Dohling said.

“The issue is very sensitive as the projects would have adverse impact on the life of the local indigenous people,” he added. He also castigated the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for declaring the proposed uranium mining site at Mawthabah as a wasteland and not forestland. “The MoEF claim is misleading as the uranium-rich Nongbahjynrin-Phudkylleng and Mawthabah-Domiasiat areas in West Khasi Hills are also rich in flora and fauna,” Dohling said. “The Union Government wants to go for uranium mining in Meghalaya even if it may lead to total destruction of the environment,” he said.

CM: Democratic approach to uranium mining

The Sentinel

Staff Correspondent

SHILLONG, May 3: Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma today said that he would adopt a democratic approach on the controversial issue of uranium survey and mining.

Knowing well the opposition from NGOs to the proposed uranium mining projects in West Khasi Hills, the Chief Minister exclusively told The Sentinel today: “My approach is democratic in nature. Any decision on the issue will be based on the general voice of the people.”

Acknowledging that it will be a difficult task for the State Government to convince the people on the merits and demerits of uranium mining in the State, Sangma said: “I am aware of the concerns raised by the people on the issue, and the collective voice can never be ignored by the government.”

“If the people have doubts, there should be a way to remove such doubts to reach a consensus on the vexed issue,” stated the Chief Minister, and added that discussions, seminars and workshops would be organized before taking any decision.

Asked specifically as to how his government will treat the pressure put by the Union Government to hasten the process of uranium mining in West Khasi Hills, Sangma said: “India is a democratic country, and every decision is taken honouring the wishes of the majority. The same is the case in our State too.”

His statement assumed significance in view of the recent opposition to survey the uranium deposit in Balpakram in Garo Hills. Already a huge deposit of uranium has been located in West Khasi Hills and its extraction has been stalled by the anti-uranium group

Opposition to uranium mining gains momentum

Assam Tribune

Correspondent
TURA, May 2 – Opposition to uranium mining inside Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills is gaining momentum with all major NGOs along with student and social groups coming together to protest the move by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to go ahead with its project.

The Garo Students Union and the United Achik Peace Forum (UAPF), a conglomerate of all leading civil societies, have dispatched urgent petitions to the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, seeking his intervention to stop the proposed uranium exploration at Balpakram National Park.

The GSU and the UAPF have pointed out that the decision to denotify an 8 km stretch of the Rongcheng Plateau inside the national park is a pre-step to drilling which ought to be opposed.

The GSU and the Forum further stated that mining in any form inside the national park would be considered sacrilegious.

Another important aspect that the Forum has put forward to the Environment Minister is the danger to India’s national animal – the Royal Bengal Tiger – that is already endangered and has a dwindling population inside the Park.

“The World Wildlife Foundation has put the Royal Bengal Tiger on the endangered list and the massive “Save the Tiger” campaign has been launched and has gathered momentum. It is the duty of the Union Government to capitalise on the campaign and not sabotage it,” stated the Forum in its letter to Ramesh.

The danger to human health from uranium mining in Garo Hills was also raised in its letter. The Forum has expressed concern over contamination of the air, land and the streams from radioactive substances should mining be given a go ahead.

The Forum has resolved to oppose in strongest terms the decision to denotify the 8 km stretch of Balpakram National Park and exploratory drilling by the DAE. It has also resolved to request the Government of India to stop the proposed exploitation of uranium at Balpakram based on the facts stated and premonition of the perceived consequences.

DAYA against BNP mining

Shillong Times

02-05-10

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The Delhi A’chik Youth Association (DAYA) has extended its support to all the organizations voicing protest against the DAE move for exploratory drilling for uranium inside the Balpakram National Park.

In a statement the Association said, “The proposed drilling will not only destroy the ecosystem. There are various health hazards — the radiation will create an impact on human habitation.”

The drilling exercise would affect the fragile biodiversity of Balpakram and would be tantamount to encroaching on the tribal rights and also violates UN norms, the release said.

NBWL team refuses to visit BNP

Shillong Times

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: With pressure mounting against proposed exploratory mining for uranium in Balpakram National Park from environment groups and student bodies, the DAE move suffered a major setback as an inspection team has refused to visit the site.

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) member B Talukdar, assigned to lead an inspection team to the site, has refused to conduct the work “as several NGOs expressed their discontentment over the ‘inspection’ of the heritage national park.”

The team was to visit the site in order to ascertain people’s views on the proposal of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to conduct exploratory drilling for uranium inside the park.

“It is not proper for me to visit the Balpakram national park and carry out an inspection,” Talukdar told The Shillong Times on Friday.

Disclosing that he has already intimated his decision to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Talukdar said, “The proposed exploratory drilling has received stiff opposition from the people of Meghalaya and being a person from the region, I don’t want to see any conflict between the people.”

Meanwhile, sources said a new team of NBWL will be constituted excluding Talukdar to carry out the inspection work in the park. According to reports, the DAE has asked the MoEF to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park. Earlier, a delegation of GSU also met Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma and expressed their opposition to the exploratory drilling and proposed visit of the inspection team to the park.

KSU refutes report: Meanwhile, the KSU has refuted the MoEF report which claimed the proposed uranium mining site in Nongbah-Jynrin in West Khasi Hills District is a wasteland. “The MoEF should not mislead the people by giving wrong information, KSU general secretary Hamlet Dohling said claiming that the land is being used by the people for cultivation.

Exploratory mining at Balpakram in abeyance

Meghalaya Times
Written by the Editor

Friday, 30 April 2010 10:43

Staff Reporter
Shillong, Apr. 29: The state government has decided to keep in abeyance the exploratory mining of uranium at Balpakram National Park. The government came to the decision after meeting a delegation of the GSU here on Thursday.
Speaking to the media after meeting Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma, GSU general secretary, Sanjeeb Sangma, said: “The government has assured us that it won’t go against the wishes of the people but will evolve a consensus on the issue.”

He, however, reiterated: “The GSU is in principle opposed to the mining of uranium from any area within Meghalaya.”
The GSU general secretary also said that the government assured the delegation that it would take up the matter with the Ministry of Environment and Forest and with the Department of Wildlife.
Sanjeeb also said that since the government had assured that them that the proposed exploratory mining would be kept in abeyance, the GSU would take a ‘wait and watch policy’.
He, however, warned that if the government ‘played’ with the sentiments of the people of Garo Hills, the union would not sit idle but would pursue the issue to its ‘logical conclusion’.
“Our central executive committee is meeting on May 5 where we will decide our future course of action,” the general secretary said.
Earlier, the Central Government had decided to depute an inspection team for Balpakram to ascertain facts about the proposed drilling sites. The 400 sq km park is a known habitat for the Asian Elephant, tiger and other endangered animals, apart from being home to rare and endemic plants.
Several NGOs of Garo Hills led by the powerful GSU are opposed to the proposed exploratory drilling of uranium ore from the park.
Apart from the issue of uranium mining, the GSU also discussed with the Chief Minister, the issue of the incompletion of the Nongal Bibra-Agia transmission.

MoEF report to UCIL ‘baffling’

The Sentinel

Staff Correspondent
SHILLONG, April 29: The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)’s contention that the proposed uranium mining site in Mawthabah is wasteland and not forestland appears to be baffling while the thickly forested areas – Nongbahjynrin- Phutkylleng and Mawthabah-Domiasiat – in West Khasi Hills are considered to be rich in flora and fauna.
In its report submitted to the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), the MoEF stated that “no forestland is involved” in the areas from where the UCIL is supposed to extract uranium.
“The total land requirement of the project is 351 hectares, including the mining area of 290.45 hectares which is wasteland. No forestland is involved”, said the MoEF in its environmental clearance letter to the UCIL in December 2007.
The report also said, “No ecologically sensitive area such as national park/wildlife sanctuary/biosphere reserve/tiger reserve is reported to be located in the core and the buffer zone of the proposed mine and that the area does not form corridor for schedule-I fauna.”
The report negated other findings about the dwindling flora and fauna in the uranium-rich areas, especially when commercial enterprises are exploiting the rich forests.
The proposed uranium mining site is still a home to a number of endangered species, right from the clouded leopard to the stag deer. Environmentalists feel that the proposed uranium project in the area of 351 hectares would have serious impact on the environment.
According to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the 23 households and 131 people, residents of Nongbah Jynrin and Mawthabah, do not require relief and rehabilitation because of “the lease and the rent” that the UCIL will have to pay for their land. There is, however, concern over possible health hazards in the villages adjacent to the uranium mining site.

Sl. No Name Area of occupancy (km²) Population trend(Total Population in India) Status IUCN Status in India Status – Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 Number of PAs NEIndia presence confirmed
1 Western Hoolock GibbonHoolock hoolock 605 Declined by >50% in last 50 years(610) Endangered Endangered Schedule 1Part 1 25*
2 Capped langurTrachypithecus pileatus pileatus <3500 Declining(<600) Endangered Endangered Schedule 1 Part II 5
3 Slow LorisNycticebus bengalensis >2001 Declining(Unknown) Data Deficient Data Deficient Schedule 1, Part 1 16
4 Stump-tailed macaqueMacaca arctoides <500 Declining(<250) Vulnerable Critically Endangered Schedule II 4
5 Assamese macaqueMacaca assamensis assamensis >2001 Declining(<425) Vulnerable Endangered Schedule II 16
6 Northern Pig-tailed macaqueMacaca leonina >2000 Declining(<5000) Vulnerable Endangered Schedule II 22
7 Rhesus macaqueMacaca mulatta >2000 Not known(>100,000) Lower Risk Least Concern Schedule 1, Part 1 21

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The Burning Issue – Apr 2010

April 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm (Uncategorized)

The Shillong Times

30-04-10

NGOs seek Jairam Ramesh’s intervention
State Govt to move Centre against Balpakram drilling

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The State Government has decided to move the Centre against the proposed exploratory drilling inside the Balpakram National park (BNP) in South Garo Hills.

Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma informed this to a delegation of the Garo Students’ Union (GSU), which met him here on Thursday.

The Government has decided to take up the matter with the Central Government after opposition to uranium mining inside the national park gained momentum with all major NGOs along with students and social groups coming together to protest the move by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to go ahead with its project.

Talking to reporters after the meeting with the Chief Minister, the GSU general secretary Sanjeeb Sangma said Dr Sangma assured the students’ body that the matter would be taken up with the Central Government.

It was decided during the meeting that the drilling exercises would be taken with the rightful consent of the people.

”It is a scared place for us and the government cannot override the sentiments of the people,” Mr Sangma said.

The students’ body also reiterated its opposition to the proposed drilling in the national park as according to them the drilling was merely a precursor to the actual mining of uranium inside the park.

The GSU also said that the team from National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) would not be allowed to visit the park to carry out inspection.

The move to drill inside the national park came to light after the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) asked the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment for de-notification of eight sq km of forest in the Balpakram National park.

Our Tura Correspondent adds: Meanwhile, the GSU and the United Achik Peace Forum (UAPF), a conglomerate of all leading civil societies, have dispatched separate petitions to the Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh seeking his intervention to stop the proposed uranium exploration at Balpakram National Park.

The GSU and the UAPF have pointed out that the decision to de-notify the 8 km stretch of the Rongcheng Plateau inside the national park is a pre-step to drilling which ought to be opposed by one and all.

The GSU and the Forum further said mining in any form inside the national park would be considered sacrilegious.

“The importance of Balpakram National Park is pellucid not only as the heritage

of Garo Hills but also in its role as an ecological sanctuary,” said the Forum in its letter to Ramesh.

The danger to human health from uranium mining in Garo Hills was also raised in the letter. The Forum has expressed concern over contamination of the air, land and the streams from radioactive substance should mining be given a go ahead.

The Forum has resolved to oppose in strongest terms the decision to de-notify the 8 km stretch of Balpakram National Park and exploratory drilling by the DAE.

The Forum has also forwarded copies of the letter to local MP and Union Minister of State for Rural Development Ms Agatha K Sangma, the Director of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, Nuclear Fuel Complex, Director General of Forests, Ministry of Environment and Forests and also to Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma.

It may be mentioned that the Balpakram National park is one of few places in the world which continues to have some of the most eye-catching birds and plants and it is also considered as one of the sacred places by the Garo people.

Meghalaya Times
Garo villagers ready to shed blood; no compromise on mining
Written by the Editor
Thursday, 29 April 2010 11:36

Staff Reporter
TURA, Apr. 28: Rongcheng village in South Garo Hills of Meghalaya is located in a very remote area along the Indo-Bangla border in the proximity of the famed Balpakram National Park. This village entered the national limelight with the proposed drilling of uranium mining being opposed by the locals. Saidul Khan reports…
The locals including various pressure groups led by the Garo Students’ Union and the Garo Hills anti-Uranium Mining Forum, a conglomerate of various environment conscious organisations, have opposed the mining of any mineral around Balpakram National Park which is likely to directly or indirectly affect the bio-diversity and the ecological balance of the region.

The mining at Rongcheng will directly affect human lives and the rich bio-diversity of the Balpakram complex, including Balpakram National Park, Siju Wildlife Sanctuary and Baghmara Reserve Forests.

The proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to carry out exploratory drilling for uranium in Rongcheng has been termed by the locals as ‘sacrilege’ for the Garo people. The village, which is located in close proximity with Balpakram, holds much significance as a cultural and religious place vis-à-vis a national park.
The site is home to several endemic species of plants and animals including almost 250 species of birds. It is also an important elephant corridor area and a habitat of the endangered Asian Elephant and contains unique geological formations. The site has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International.
To get a first hand impression of the location, this correspondent made an attempt to reach the proposed uranium area in Rongcheng. We reached the place after walking for over 12 kilometres from helipad in Balpakram. The villagers were agitated at the decision of the DAE to drill uranium in the area. The locals said that though no government officials have informed them about the proposed drilling, they got the information from local radio news transmissions.
The socio-economic condition of the village is poor with most of the locals depending on jhum cultivation for their livelihood. They are not very educated but are conscious enough to protect and preserve their natural heritage as they said: “We will not part away with our land. We are all ready to shed blood.”
The nearest market for this backward village is Rongara, located at a distance of about 30 kilometres and the villagers have to walk for at least seven hours to buy essential commodities. It is a hilly area comprising about 35 households with a population of about 250 people.
The headman of the village is a non adult about 16 years of age and the villagers have appointed two acting nokmas (headmen) to oversee the village’s day to day affairs. The acting headman, Winison M Sangma, said: “We don’t want any uranium mining. The department can’t forcefully take our land. At any cost, we will not part away with our land. We know that it will bring health hazards for our people and our next generation will be born deformed. We will give blood but not our land.”
A village teacher, Asan Momin, said: “Most of the villagers are illiterate and they are not aware about the health hazards of mining uranium but conscious groups are creating awareness and we are not going to part with our land for mining even if the government promises developmental packages.”
The locals say that though they may be illiterate, they are conscious and are aware of the ill effects of uranium mining. An elderly villager, Sajendro Marak, stated: “We will not compromise with anything – money or development – because we know that the effects of radiation will remain forever and haunt our next generation. We don’t want our children to suffer.”
Protesting the move of the government to drill uranium, the influential Garo Students’ Union has erected signboards and information boards opposing mining activities.
It is to be mentioned that the DAE’s proposal is silent on a number of critical issues, including access to the site and impact of the workers. The DAE is unable to give any assurance that wildlife will not be affected as the Rongcheng plateau is mostly accessible only on foot.
Equipment and machinery necessary for the drilling will still need to be transported to the drilling site. This will require road construction/improvement and forest areas being cleared, leading to habitats being lost or disturbed in the process.
Inaccessibility of the drilling site might also require temporary settlements within the national park which will involve clearing the natural vegetation and also cause disturbance to wildlife. The drilling activity in whatever form will undoubtedly upset the forest’s natural harmony.
The DAE in their proposal have incorrectly stated that the area of Balpakram National Park as 400 sq. km. The actual area is 162.3 sq. km only. The park is also sub judice in several court cases in the Shillong Bench of the Gauhati High Court.
It is clear that the DAE have submitted factually incorrect, misleading and incomplete information to the National Board of Wildlife to guarantee swift clearance of their proposal.
Finally, the DAE has given an elaborate justification for the exploratory drilling – sourcing uranium for India’s nuclear energy needs.
This makes it quite clear that the exploratory drilling is a precursor to full scale uranium mining, should the exploratory drilling reveal suitable deposits. “We are against any such eventuality and hence will oppose, tooth and nail, the exploratory drilling,” said a member of the anti-uranium mining group.

ALSO VISIT: http://picasaweb.google.co.in/saloni86/MeghalayaMining?feat=directlink

Public verdict for coal plant

From a Correspondent

SHILLONG, April 28: People of Rwiang, West Khasi Hills have accepted the proposals made by a company having a coal plant in the area for protection of the environment.

The public hearing, conducted by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) at Rwiang, 20 km from Nongstoin, supported the stand of the Shakambari Ferro Alloy Pvt Ltd on protection of the environment. The public hearing was attended by local headmen, representatives of traditional institutions, KSU, WKHSU, HPSO, FKJGP and student organizations. The meeting was chaired by Extra Assistant Commissioner in West Khasi Hills DM Wahlang.

Shakambari Ferro Alloys Pvt Ltd coordinator SC Mahanta explained the various steps to be taken by the company to protect the environment.

Rwiang Wildlife Environmental Protection president H Marbaniang said the existence of the factory would help the people of the area. “There are about 160 factories in Meghalaya, whereas in West Khasi Hills we have got none. Therefore, the people should accept this company. The company should have a Monitoring Committee to look after the welfare of the wildlife in these areas,” said Marbaniang.

Witting Mawsor, a senior resident, said the company would help the business of local coal dealers. WKHSU president Moslandar Marngar wanted the company to make sure that it provides 100 per cent jobs for locals.

 

http://www.sentinelassam.com/meghalaya/story.php?sec=2&subsec=8&id=34740&dtP=2010-04-29&ppr=1#34740

 


GSU to meet CM on Balpakram today

29th April 2010

By Our Reporter (Shillong Times)

SHILLONG: A delegation of Garo Students’ Union (GSU) will meet Chef Minister Dr Mukul Sangma on Thursday to discuss the proposed exploratory drilling in Balpakram National Park besides other developmental issue pertaining to the State.

Meanwhile, a public meeting held at Tura on Wednesday decided to oppose the proposed exploratory drilling in Balpakram National Park.

The meeting attended by the members of Seniors Citizens’ Forum, intellectuals, leaders of various NGOs including GSU, Post Graduate Garo Students’ Unions, Tura Government College Student Union, the Garo Graduates Union, Tura Chambers of Commerce, and the Council of Nokmas unanimously decided to launch a movement under the banner “Balpakram Anti-Uranium Mining Forum”.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma was unanimously elected as the president of the forum.

The forum will meet shortly in Tura to chalk out its future course of action.


Citizens’ forum decries proposed BNP mining

From Our Correspondent (Shillong Times)

TURA: The Tura A’chik (Garo) senior citizens forum has opposed the move to mine uranium by denotifying an area of 8.0 square km in Rongcheng plateau of Balpakram National Park.

The senior citizens forum had an emergent meeting at Tura, attended by members of the Asima Dingsima Rangsaljong Association (ADRA), and opposed the move by the Department of Atomic Energy to denotify the area for proposed uranium mining.

The president of the senior citizens forum, W G Momin, apprised the members present about the need to protect and preserve Balpakram national park and said every effort needs to be made based on the principle of equity and law on protection of Environment and Prevention of Pollution (Central and States, 1993) and also upholding the agenda of World Leaders Summit on Global Warming (December 2009).

Members pointed out that experts in the field of Forest and Environment selected Balpakram for a national park in 1986 primarily because the area harbours a rich biodiversity coupled with virgin forests that are teeming with wild animals,epiphytic orchids, medicinal plants and herbs, among others.

The senior citizens during discussion also dwelled on the historical background of Balpakram, that is the age old belief of the Garos that the place is the abode of the dead mens soul.

“We as custodians want protection and preservation of Rongcheng Plateau and will not allow under any circumstances to explore these areas for uranium mining,” stated the Tura A’chik (Garo) senior citizens forum.

The forum has also urged the Wildlife Department not to agree to the exploration of the protected and preserved national park.

The meeting passed a charter of resolutions passed by the members present. The resolutions called for protection of the entire park since it holds some the most endangered wildlife such as the Hoolock Gibbon, Golden cat, langur, binturong, clouded leopard, otter, slow loris, wild buffalo, among others.

Balpakram is also one of few places in the world which continues to have some of the most eyecatching birds and plants. The great Indian Hornbill, snow patridge, the large racket failed drongo, red jungle fowl, are some of the birds that visitors have come across inside the park.

The world famous pitcher plant and the colorful orchids of Garo Hills are also found in plenty in the national park.

The extensive destruction to forest cover due to coal and limestone mining in and around Nangalbibra and Chokpot in South Garo Hills which borders Balpakram has alarmed the NGOs including the senior citizens.

The mining has caused the Simsang river to become polluted resulting in toxic poisoning of all forms of aquatic life.

The entire land has become barren and streams and rivulets in the catchment areas have dried up and people’s health have been severely affected by coal dust pollution.

“The mining of uranium will definitely bring serious health and environmental hazards as we see in the living example of coal and limerstone mining. Mining will drive out both human and animal population from Rongcheng Plateau,” warned the Tura A’chik (Garo) Senior Citizens Forum.


Centre push for coal mining in Garo Hills

 

From Our Special Correspondent

 

NEW DELHI: The Centre has urged the Meghalaya Government to renew the mining lease of Simsang Block in Garo Hills with the Coal India Ltd (CIL) to meet the demand of coal for power sector in the north-eastern region particularly the proposed coal-to-oil liquefaction project of OIL at Duliajan.

The demand for power is increasing everyday particularly in the region and using coal from Meghalaya is most suitable for such coal-to-oil liquefaction, Union Minister for Coal Sriprakash Jaiswal said.

He urged the Meghalaya Government to renew the lease in 25 sq km Simsang Blcok in favour of state owned CIL.

Coal mining in the Samsang project was initiated by the CIL way back in 1990 after developing requisite infrastructure. But the operation was suspended after abduction of an employee and heavy water seepage at the initiation stage. The mining lease expired in 2008 too.

But to revive the mining operations with up-to-date technology, the CIL had several rounds of talks with the State Government and even paid the dead rent last year, Jaiswal told newsmen here recently. The hill state is endowed with reserve of coal to the tune of 460 million tonnes some of which are of good quality, he said.


 

MoEF clears clearance to Lafarge’s mining in Meghalaya

TNN, Apr 24, 2010, 01.21am IST

NEW DELHI: The ministry of forest and environment (MoEF) on Friday gave the green signal to limestone mining in Meghalaya by French multinational Lafarge for its cement plant in Bangladesh but put a series of conditions, to fulfil which the company would have to shell out more than Rs 100 crore.

The forest and environment clearance for the mining, to which as many as 31 conditions were attached, was conveyed to the Supreme Court on Friday by MoEF through an affidavit filed by standing counsel Haris Beeran.

The key conditions relate to payment of money for afforestation activity in twice the area under mining and creation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for development of the area around the mines, from which the limestone is transported to the plant at Chhatak through a conveyor belt.

MoEF said Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd has to pay five times the normal afforestation cost working out to Rs 55 crore with an interest of 9% from April 1, 2007. This would amount to nearly Rs 70 crore taking into account the interest component.

Added to this, the mining company has to pay Rs 90 per tonne of the mined mineral since the commencement of mining. With Lafarge Surma having already mined around four million tonnes of limestone, it would have to pay around Rs 36 crore that will constitute the SPV, which would contribute towards the development of health, education, economy, irrigation and agriculture in the project area solely for the local community and welfare of tribals.

The clearance from the MoEF was sought by the Supreme Court taking into account the charges of Shella Action Committee, a conglomerate of traditional village bodies, that limestone was being mined in forest areas and that the enviornmental clearance was obtained fradulently.

Lafarge Umiam was mining the limestone quarry area spread over 100 hectares near the Indo-Bangladesh border for supply of raw material to Lafarge Surma Cement Project at Chhatak in Sunamganj, Bangladesh.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/MoEF-clears-clearance-to-Lafarges-mining-in-Meghalaya/articleshow/5849838.cms

 


 

Former Lok Sabha threatens agitation against uranium mining

April 23rd, 2010 – 12:25 am ICT by IANS

Shillong, April 22 (IANS) Former Lok Sabha speaker Purno A. Sangma Thursday threatened to launch an agitation against the central government’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling for uranium inside the Balpakram National Park in the South Garo hills of Meghalaya.

The 400-sq km BNP is a known habitat for the Asian elephant, tiger and other endangered animals such as, Hoolock Gibbon and Slow Loris, apart from being home to rare and endemic plants.

Sangma’s threat assume significance after the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) approved the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling of uranium in the ecologically fragile Rongcheng plateau of the Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya.

The NBWL is headed by Prime Minsister Manmohan Singh.

A NBWL member, Bibhab Talukdar, who has been assigned to lead a site inspection team to South Garo Hills to seek the views of people on the DAE’s proposed exploratory drilling of uranium, and submit a report to the standing committee, has decided not to visit the national park.

“I have informed the board that I will not be visiting the place following people’s protest against the government’s proposal,” Talukdar said.

The Garo National Liberation Army, a mitant group has warned the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden from going ahead with exploratory work for uranium mining in and around the national park.

Last year, the DAE has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills for exploration of uranium.

“Balpakram is sacrosanct for Garos. We believed after death our soul goes and rests in Balpakram,” Sangma told IANS.

Therefore, he said, the question of mining or diluting the sanctity of Balpakram by way of mining is not acceptable to Garos.

The Hindus too believe that Balpakram was the mythological hillock from where Hanuman plucked the life-giving herbs ‘the sanjeevani’ for wounded Lakshman.

On April 24, Sangma said political (Garo) leaders and NGO leaders will meet at Tura in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district to protest against the government’s decision to explore uranium inside Balpakram.

The influtential Garo Students’ Union Wednesday dashed off a memorandum to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh opposing the DAE’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling of uranium inside Balpakram.

The drilling exercise, he said would affect the fragile biodiversity of Balpakram and would be tantamount to encroaching on the tribal rights.

“Survey in the recent years has identified possibility of economical uranium mining in the Rongcheng plateau of Balpakram,” a DAE official said.

He said the DAE wanted to start the exploration exercise to confirm the uranium deposits to meet the country’s nuclear energy requirement which will be to the tune of 20,000 MW by 2020.

State Chief Wildlife Warden Sunil Kumar earlier told IANS that the proposed drilling exercise will have no adverse affect on the park.

“Since the drilling exercise is of temporary nature, which will be carried out as a day time activity, I don’t think it will disturb the landscape or ecology of the area,” Kumar said.

“Once the exercise is completed. The drilling areas will be restored to ensure that there is biotic interference in Balpakram,” he added.

The DAE has discovered about 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits in Meghalaya.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) plans to produce 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year and process 1,500 tonnes of the mineral a day.

It has also proposed to set up a Rs.1,046-crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district, which has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.

http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/politics/former-lok-sabha-threatens-agitation-against-uranium-mining_100352302.html


 

Tribal Garos oppose exploration of Uranium inside national park

 

Shillong, Apr 22: The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE’s) proposal to conduct exploratory drilling for Uranium inside the sacred Balpakram National Park has angered the tribal Garos in Meghalaya.

 

Former Lok Sabha SpeakerPurno A Sangma has threatened to launch a massive agitation in protest against the Centre’s decision to allow the exploratory drilling inside the national park in South Garo Hills district.

The 400-sq km BNP is a known habitat for Asian elephants, tigers and other endangered animals such as Hoolock Gibbon and Slow loris.

It is also home to rare and endemic plants.

The DAE had asked the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment for de-notification of 8 Sqkm of forest under the national park to conduct an exploratory drilling in the ecologically-fragile Rongcheng plateau of the park.

Keeping in mind the necessity for Atomic Energy, the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) also unanimously recommended for exploratory drilling of Uranium.

The Committee also observed that the approval of State Board for Wildlife was not statutorily required.

According to a recent survey, the Rongcheng plateau is one of the ”most potential” sites for ”high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits”.

The exploratory drilling is aimed at that.

–UNI

 

http://www.newkerala.com/news/fullnews-94797.html

 


 

Mining bid in park hits union wall – GSU writes to Ramesh

A STAFF REPORTER

Guwahati, April 22: The recommendation of the National Board for Wildlife for exploratory drilling of uranium at the Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills district has been opposed by the Garo Students Union apart from local organisations in Meghalaya.

The 18th meeting of the standing committee of the wildlife board in New Delhi had taken the decision on exploratory uranium drilling. Union minister of state (independent charge) for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh had chaired the meet.

The committee, after discussions, unanimously decided to recommend exploratory drilling of uranium in the Rongcheng plateau of the park, keeping in mind the necessity for atomic energy.

The committee directed its member, Bibhab Talukdar, to visit the area and suggest safeguards, if any, to the state government under intimation to the ministry.

The Garo Students Union, in a memorandum to Ramesh, said it had decided to prevent the team from the board from entering the national park.

“Since we are principally opposed to any uranium mining in Garo hills, we do not see the point of exploratory drilling and therefore there is no merit in carrying out the site visit. We particularly hope that the proposed visit of NBWL team will not be allowed to reach a flashpoint and the team will not insist in conducting the site visit in violation of the people’s desires,” the memorandum said.

The member secretary of the committee, M.B. Lal, who is also the additional director general of forests (wildlife), said according to Section 35 (6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, any diversion within a national park needed recommendation of the wildlife board. Besides, according to Section 29 of the act, any diversion within a sanctuary needed recommendation of the State Board for Wildlife.

Therefore, in the instant case, approval of the State Board for Wildlife was not statutorily required. The committee, however, also observed that recommendation of the state board be obtained for the proposal.

The department of atomic energy had sought permission for exploratory drilling in the ecologically fragile Rongcheng plateau for which it had requested for de-notification of 8 square km of forest under the national park.

According to a recent survey, the Rongcheng plateau is one of the “most potential” sites for “high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits”. The exploratory drilling will aim to confirm the presence of such deposits.

The 400-sq km national park is a known habitat for the Asian elephant, tigers and other endangered animals such as, hoolock gibbon and slow loris, apart from being home to rare and endemic plants.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100423/jsp/northeast/story_12368875.jsp


 

Whiff of discontentment in MUA

Our Bureau

SHILLONG: Discontentment seems to be brewing in the ruling conglomerate as a chunk of Congress MLAs who did not find favours with Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma are privately airing their feelings for the need to assert themselves.

Barely hours after Dr Sangma was sworn in, some of these MLAs went into private huddles. After the full Cabinet was constituted last week-end, the whispers of discontentment have become louder.

According to sources, the unhappy lot in the Congress is being joined by some of the minor coalition partners. Although it is still in an early formative stage, if not effectively put down by the leadership, the situation has the potential for turning serious.

Sources said at least two prominent Congress MLAs, who have been denied ministerial berth, constitute the nucleus of this discontentment.

Much to the discomfiture of the newly-inducted Chief Minister some of the MLAs from Jaintia Hills are said to be adding oxygen to the simmering discontentment. It is learnt that a couple of Jaintia MLAs who were hopeful of a Cabinet berth after they helped the party with hard cash, are “angry” over this “denial”.

Add to it the “loose” coalition partners like the KHNAM, HSPDP and the pack of Independents, who are not in the Cabinet, are said to be alert to the emerging opportunity. There are unconfirmed reports that some of them have had confabulations, but none was willing to speak more than “I don’t know anything”.

Informed sources said already an exercise of permutation and combination is underway. Although political observers are not willing to give more credence to such speculations than “mere wishful hypothesis”, everybody agrees that the key to stability of MUA is in the hands of UDP.

Even though the official position of UDP is that it would like to complete the full tenure as the major partner of Congress-led coalition, in the cloak-and-dagger politics of Meghalaya anything is possible, observers say.

In the prevailing political atmosphere where many believe that stability of the present combination can hardly be guaranteed, the opposition NCP which finds Dr Sangma its bete noire, would only be too eager to fish in the troubled water.

However, the bitter memories of the short lasting marriage of NCP and UDP and given the air of distrust among the erstwhile MPA partners, could still prove to be the saviour for the ruling coalition, observers say.

http://www.theshillongtimes.com/shillong.html


 

Apex court refuses to lift ban on limestone mining
SC blow to Lafarge

 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to lift the stay on limestone mining by French cement giant Lafarge in the forests of Meghalaya till the Ministry of Environment and Forests submits a report on environmental compliance.

“Till the time appropriate reports are submitted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, we are not inclined to accept the report of MoEF and permit the mining,” a Special Forest Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam said.

The Ministry had recently filed an affidavit before the court stating that it had given the go-ahead on the condition that the company implement various welfare schemes for the locals.

The Bench was of the view that the Ministry’s report giving clearance for mining has not appreciated the recommendations of an expert committee that called for comprehensive bio-engineering plan, periodical assessment of flora and fauna.

The court said it would consider lifting of the stay only after the four conditions mentioned in the report of the expert committee are fulfilled.

Among them, Lafarge has to submit detailed comprehensive bio-engineering plan of the area as per the suggestion of Central Institute of Mining & Fuel Research, Nagpur and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur. The cement firm would have to make periodical assessment of flora and fauna of the area including a time bound plan for conservation as recommended in the digital mapping report of the mining area.

The apex court has also asked for a comprehensive bio-diversity conservation plan with a provision of time bound implementation be prepared by the state government and the fund should be provided by Lafarge in a time-bound manner.

It also asked Lafarge to implement Surface Miner Technology to reduce environmental impact as recommended in the digital mapping report.

The opposition for lifting the February 5 order staying the mining operation came from senior advocate Harish Salve, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae in the matter and senior advocate P S Narasimha, appearing for the tribals of Shella village, who raised questions over the environmental clearance report submitted by the MoEF in alleged haste.

“The site inspection report of MoEF raises more issues than it answers. These are post environment clearances. How can they rapidly conclude it in two days only… should have spent at least 10 days. What was the need of such rapid assessment,” Salve submitted. Salve said no mandatory soil testing was done by the MoEF on the grounds that no top soil was available in that area.

“If we grant clearance in such way then we can imagine the type of environmental damage,” he said, adding that there was no urgency in granting permission to Lafarge. He said the yardsticks for giving environmental clearance has to be uniform and referred to apex court’s decision in the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project which was not cleared for four years till entire parameters were followed. Narasimha questioned the MoEF report saying that the committee even did not meet the locals.

“We cannot permit law of this country to be bended because it is a case of MNC firm. They would have to take permission as per the law. Even its takes four years, let it take,” he submitted.

However, senior advocate Fali Nariman appearing for the cement firm, requested the court to lift its stay as the stock of raw materials for the Bangladesh plant has been finished. He submitted that Lafarge would pay for “whatsoever penalty is imposed.” The MoEF on Friday had filed an affidavit giving a go-ahead to mining activities on the condition that the company work for the welfare of the locals and would follow some mandatory conditions. The MoEF had directed Lafarge to deposit Rs 90 crore for the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle, which would be headed by the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya.

The development projects, which will be solely for the local community and welfare of the tribals, could be in areas such as health, education, economy, irrigation and agriculture.

The MoEF submission came after the apex court had on April 12 directed it to take a final decision on the revised forest clearance for the 116-hectare limestone mine area in the Khasi Hills Forest area of Meghalaya. The apex court on February 5 had stopped Lafarge from carrying out limestone mining in Meghalaya for its cement plant in Bangladesh, saying mining in the environment sensitive zone cannot be allowed. The Bench had stayed mining activities on the basis of a MoEF report, which had said that the company was extracting minerals from the land falling in the forest area. The 255 million dollar Lafarge Surma Cement project at Chhatak in Bangladesh is wholly dependent on limestone extracted from East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Limestone is transported from Meghalaya to Bangaldesh through a 17-km-long conveyor belt. (PTI)

http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/taxonomy/term/5028


 

GNLA, FKJGP oppose Balpakram mining


Shillong Times 20-04-10

TURA: The Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) has warned the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State from going ahead with exploratory work for uranium mining in and around the famous Balpakram National Park (BNP).

Publicity secretary of GNLA, Gilsang Matgrik Marak alias Aski, issued a press release strongly protesting any attempt by authorities to mine uranium in Garo Hills.

“We strongly condemn the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) to send a Uranium Site Inspection Team to BNP and warn the State Chief Wildlife Warden, Sunil Kumar, against working as an agent of the DAE,” threatened the militant outfit.

Supporting the role of the Garo Hills Anti-Muning Forum (GHAMF), GSU, KSU and other NGOs for opposing the proposed mining, the GNLA stated that Garo Hills would turn into another ‘Chernobyl’ if the project goes ahead.The outfit has also called upon the people of Garo Hills to rise up against any kind of uranium mining and prevent an impending catastrophe.

FKJGP joins bandwagon: Meanwhile, the newly-constituted FKJGP, Garo Hills zone, also opposed the proposed uranium mining inside the national park. The federation has resolved to support the KSU and GSU on their anti-uranium mining campaign and has said they will not allow private or government firm to extract the ore from Garo Hills.

“We will soon submit petitions to both the State and Central governments to immediately stop any proposal for exploratory mining,” informed the FKJGP.

 


GNLA opposed Uranium mining Meghalaya Times

Monday, 19 April 2010 10:14

SHILLONG, Apr 17:  The Publicity Secretary, Garo National Liberation Army(GNLA), Gilsang Matgrik Marak alias Aski, in his press statement released to the media strongly condemn the decision of the National Board of Wildlife, (NBWL), to sent a Uranium Site Inspection Team to Balpakram National Park.

Aski added the GNLA warn the State Chief Wildlife Warden, Sunil Kumar to take the project ahead, and advised Kumar to abstain from being a “Dalal” of the Department of Atomic Energy.

In a stronger statement, Aski added, “We are fully prepared to welcome Sunil Kumar and his BOSSES with our 3Bs:- (1)BULLETS, (2)BOMBS, (3)BLOOD if they step into their area.”
GNLA added, they whole-heartedly support the GSU, GHAMF and other NGOs and also request them to prevent this “Day light robbery of our Deadly” natural resource which might bring another ‘CHERNOBYL’ to our land.

Aski added GNLA extended their gratitude to the KSU for supporting the Garo Hills people in this issue.

Lastly, the release calls upon all people of Garo Hills to rise up against any kind of Uranium-Exploration and prevent this impending catastrophe in our land. 

 


 

NBWL to carry site inspection of Balpakram

Shillong Times 16-04-10

Guwahati: The National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) has decided to undertake a site inspection of the uranium deposit in Balpakram National Park in the State in response to the proposal submitted by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to de-notify an area of 8 square kilometers at Rongcheng Plateau in Balpakram National Park for exploratory uranium mining.

A highly-placed source informed that the Board at a meeting held in New Delhi on April 12, had decided to send a site inspection team led by one of its standing committee members to Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills district in view of the DAE’s proposal.

The go-ahead from the NBWL holds the key for the DAE’s bid to explore uranium in Balpakram given that any non-forest activity like exploratory drilling inside a national park requires approval from the NBWL.

The inspection team of the NBWL is expected to give ear to rising protests against the attempt to mine uranium inside the national park area in the State.

The Rongcheng Plateau in Balpakram National Park has been identified as a site for high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits. The total uranium ore deposit in Khasi and Garo Hills region of Meghalaya is estimated to be 9.2 million tonnes and it is of immense importance to the country considering the fact that India has set a target of 20,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2020.Anti-mining forum opposes mining proposal.

Meanwhile, the Garo Hills Anti-Mining Forum (GHAMF) has opposed the proposal of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to carry out exploratory Uranium mining inside Balpakram National Park.

The forum was of the opinion that drilling activity in whatever form will undoubtedly upset the forest’s natural harmony, since the park is home to several endemic species of plants and animals including almost 250 species of birds. Reiterating that the forum would fight tooth and nail against the exploratory drilling, the anti-mining forum said that since the DAE had elaborately justified the exploratory drilling in terms of sourcing uranium for India’s nuclear energy needs, it is evident that the exploratory drilling is a precursor to full-scale uranium mining.

It may be mentioned that the Garo Students’ Union has already declared its opposition to the project.

http://www.theshillongtimes.com


 

Uranium hunt bid in Meghalaya national park raises storm

Hindustan Times

Fri, Apr 16 09:40 AM

Guwahati, April 15 — A bid to de-notify a part of a sacred national park with a perceived Ramayana connection to facilitate uranium exploration has incensed tribal groups in Meghalaya. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to de-notify 8 sq km inside the 400 sq km Balpakram National Park (BNP) in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills.

The area falls on the ecologically fragile Rongcheng Plateau. The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) under MoEF had in a meeting on 12 December 2008 discussed DAE’s proposal for exploratory uranium mining in BNP. DAE justified the need for targeting BNP citing India’s national resolve to generate at least 20,000MW of nuclear power by 2020.

The Rongcheng plateau, a recent DAE survey said, is one of the “most potential” sites for “high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits” that requires confirmation through exploratory drilling. According to the Garo Hills Anti-Mining Forum (GHNAMF) – a conglomerate of 11 social and green organizations – locals were kept in the dark about the “clandestine bid” until it moved RTI last year.

“We are not going to allow any mining activities inside BNP,” said GHNAMF general secretary Ginseng Sangma. The biodiversity hotspot tag on BNP was not the only reason, he added.

“Balpakram is sacred for the Garo tribal people. We believe the spirit of our ancestors reside in these forests sustaining the tiger, hoolock gibbon and slow loris besides elephants,” said fellow activist Vaishali A Sangma.

BNP is holy for Hindus too. They believe Balpakram was the mythological mound from where Hanuman plucked sanjeevani, the life-giving herb, for the wounded Lakshman felled by Meghnad in Ramayana.

But isn’t mining activity in and around a national park rejected outright? In the case of uranium, considered a critical mineral, the MoEF can allow its mining in the “larger national interest”. DAE officials said things “haven’t progressed enough” to invite anger from local organizations.

But NMWL member Bibhab Talukdar said a team is scheduled to visit BNP on April 22 to seek the views of the people on DAE’s proposal and submit a report to the standing committee. Notably, another uranium mining proposal in Domiasiat area of West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya has been hanging fire since 1992.

Several anti-nuke groups have stalled the project citing radiation effect on human health and environmental degradation.

Hindustan Times


 

Protests over bid to tap uranium
Bijay Sankar Bora/TNS

Guwahati, April 15
The National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) has decided to conduct a site inspection in response to the proposal from Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to de-notify an area of 8 sq km at Rongcheng Plateau in Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya for exploratory uranium mining even as protests have been raging in the hill state over bid to tap uranium deposit in the area.

A source said the NBWL had, at its meeting in New Delhi on April 12 last, decided to conduct a site inspection by one of its standing committee members along with state forest department officials at Balpakram National Park in South Garo hills district of Meghalaya in view of the DAE’s proposal. Any non-forest activity like exploratory drilling inside a national park would need the approval of the NBWL.The Rongcheng Plateau in Balpakram National Park has been identified as a site for high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits. In fact, the total uranium ore deposit in Khasi and Garo hill areas of Meghalaya is estimated to be 9.2 million tonne and is of immense importance if the country is to achieve the target of 20,000 MW nuclear energy by 2020.

Meanwhile, the Khasi Students Union (KSU), which has been spearheading the anti-uranium mining campaign in Meghalaya, has taken strong exception to reports that now the government has turned its eyes to uranium deposit in Balpakram National Park in Garo Hills areas in the state.

http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/taxonomy/term/5028


 

NATION | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Opposition to uranium mining in national park

Sanat K Chakraborty | Guwahati

A proposal for an exploratory drilling at a newly-surveyed uranium site inside the Balpakram National Park (BNP), in South Garo hills of Meghalaya, has raised the hackles of wildlife and conservation groups in the State.

The 400-sq km BNP is a known habitat for Asian elephant, tiger and other endangered animals such as, Hoolock Gibbon and Slow loris, apart from being home to rare and endemic plants.

Last year, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) had sought permission for an exploratory drilling in the ecologically fragile Rongcheng plateau of the Park for which the DAE has requested for de-notification of 8 sq km of forest under the national park.

According to a recent survey, the Rongcheng Plateau is one of the “most potential” sites for “high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits”, which requires confirmation. The exploratory drilling is aimed at that.

Citing India’s national resolve to generate at least 20,000MW of nuclear power by 2020, the DAE justified the need for “exploration efforts for economically feasible uranium deposits,” and sought clearance of the Ministry of Forest and Environment.

However, the proposal came to light following an RTI appeal by a local conservationist group in South Garo Hills, which got wind of the uranium find. What angered the local NGOs was the “clandestine manner” in which the exploratory drilling activities were proposed by the DAE.

“We are not going to allow any mining activities inside the BNP,” said Ginseng Sangma of the Chitmang Hills Anti-Mining Forum, which filed the RTI petition about the proposed exploratory uranium mining activities.

He said BNP was not only a biodiversity and ecological hotspot, “it’s a sacred place for us.” The Garos believe the spirit of their ancestors reside in the forest of Balpakram.

Not only the indigenous Garos, the Hindus too believe that Balpakram was the mythological hillock from where Hanuman plucked the life-giving herbs, sanjeevani, for wounded Lakshman.

Meanwhile, on Monday the issue came up for discussion at the meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The meeting, chaired by Union Minister of State for Forest and Environment Jairam Ramesh, decided to send ‘an inspection team’ to ascertain facts about the proposed drilling site.

Normally, any mining activity around a national park is rejected outright, but considering ‘uranium’ as a ‘critical mineral’, the ministry has to look at ‘larger national interest,’ an NBWL member told The Pioneer.

Another uranium mining proposal in West Khasi hills of Meghalaya is lying pending since 1992, with several anti-nuke groups opposing the project citing radiation effect on human health and environmental degradation.

The Uranium Corpo-ration of India (UCIL) has proposed to set up a Rs 1,046 crore opencast uranium mining and processing unit in Domiasiat area, which has an estimated deposit of 9.22 million tones of uranium ore.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/249179/Opposition-to-uranium-mining-in-national-park.html


Opposition to Uranium Mining from Balpakram Mounts

Wed, Apr 14 06:49 PM

Shillong, April 14 (IANS) The standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) will send a site inspection team to Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya to ascertain people’s views on the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) proposal to conduct its exploratory mission in the park.

The DAE has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya South Garo Hills for exploration of uranium ore.

‘Survey in the recent years has identified possibility of economical uranium mineralisation in the Rongcheng plateau,’ a DAE official said.

He said the DAE wanted to start the exploration exercise to mainly confirm the uranium deposits to meet the country’s nuclear energy requirement which will be to the tune of 20,000 MW by 2020.

On Tuesday, the board standing committee meeting, chaired by Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi, decided to depute a site inspection team to Balpakram.

‘We will be visiting Balpakram later this month to seek the views of the people on the DAE’s proposed exploratory drilling of uranium, and submit a report to the standing committee,’ NBWL member Bibhab Talukdar told IANS.

The 220 square km Balpakram National Park, apart from being an ecological hotspot, is also a sacred place for the indigenous Garo community in Meghalaya hills. The park is also called land of the eternal death in Garo mythology, as it is believed that the spirits of the dead reside here.

It is also believed by Hindus that Hanuman, while looking for the herb ‘sanjeevani’ with which to cure Laxman, who was injured in the battle against Ravana, found it in Balpakram.

The area is home to rare and endangered species of wild life which include the hoolock gibbons, slow loris, tigers and elephants.

State Chief Wildlife Warden Sunil Kumar said that the proposed exploration drilling exercise will have no biotic interference in the park.

‘Since the drilling exercise is of temporary nature, which will be carried out as a day time activity I don’t think it will disturb the landscape or ecology of the area,’ Kumar told IANS.

‘Once the exercise is completed. The drilling areas will be restored to ensure that there is biotic interference in Balpakram,’ he said.

However, several NGOs, including the powerful Garo Students’ Union (GSU) has opposed the DAE’s proposal to conduct its drilling exercise inside the national park.

‘We oppose DAE’s move to explore uranium deposits inside the park and we have also decided to ban outsiders and government officials from entering Balpakram,’ GSU president Alex Sangma said.

The drilling exercise, he said would surely affect the fragile biodiversity of Balpakram and would be tantamount to encroaching on the tribal rights.

Meanwhile, the GSU will send a letter to Chief Minister D.D. Lapang to oppose any move to de-notify eight sq km the Rongcheng Plateau to facilitate exploration of uranium.Earlier, the DAE has discovered about 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits in Meghalaya.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) plans to produce 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year and process 1,500 tonnes of the mineral a day.

It has also proposed to set up a Rs.1,046-crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district, which has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.

Indo Asian News Service

http://in.news.yahoo.com/43/20100414/812/tnl-wildlife-team-to-visit-before-uraniu.html


 
 
 
Lafarge to tailor ops for public benefit
 
Staff Correspondent
SHILLONG, April 13: In view of the Supreme Court upholding the Attorney General (AG)’s recommendation that an independent Environmental Assessment Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)  should  review the  Environment Compliance Reports at the next hearing, the Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited (LUMPL) has agreed to tailor its plans for the benefit of the people.
Even as the mining project has been kept on hold in the Shella-Nongtrai area, a Lafarge statement today said the LUMPL had plans to intensify its activity as suggested by  the AG.
Referring to the AG’s suggestion that envisages the setting up of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) –  which  would provide a structure for the organization in implementing the activity that will bring greater transparency in the processes – to  ensure that the interests of all stake-holders are equitably met.
“Lafarge is  committed  to total legal and environmental compliance,” said the statement.
“We are confident of an early and speedy resolution of the matter in the best interest of all stakeholders”, Lafarge added.
While Lafarge operations in Meghalaya have come to a virtual halt leaving its processing plant in Bangladesh on tenterhooks, Lafarge referred to the latest findings that gave the company a clean chit.
“The  report  submitted  by the high-powered committee of the MoEF, headed by BN Jha, RCCF North Eastern Regional Office of Environment and Forest, and  other  senior officials who visited the site recently under the orders of  the  Supreme Court, has confirmed that the company was meeting the environmental standards and was in compliance with the set norms”, said Lafarge.http://www.sentinelassam.com/meghalaya/story.php?sec=2&subsec=8&id=33539&dtP=2010-04-14&ppr=1#33539
       


 

KSU, GSU fire 1st salvo

‘Uranium mining’ in Balpakram

Shillong Times 13-04-10

SHILLONG: The KSU which is spearheading the anti-uranium mining campaign in West Khasi Hills has taken strong exception to reports that now the Government has turned its eyes to Balpakram National Park to extract uranium from the State.

Reacting strongly to the news item published in The Shillong Times, KSU general secretary Hamlet Dohling said the people of Garo Hills should be aware and should not be misled by the Government’s promises.

“People will ultimately suffer from radiation, if mining of uranium takes place in the State,” Dohling said.

Besides the health hazards, the environment of the bio-diversity hotspot will also be adversely affected, if uranium mining takes place in and around the famous park, according to the KSU leader.

Calling upon the people of Garo Hills to remain alert, the KSU also offered its hand to assist and work with Garo NGOs against uranium mining in the State.

Meanwhile, the GSU also expressed its opposition against any uranium project in the in Garo Hills region.

GSU general secretary Sanjeev Sangma while speaking to THE SHILLONG TIMES said the organisation had a meeting with different organizations on Monday and adopted a resolution that no company would be allowed to visit Garo Hills with the intention of drilling uranium from the Garo Hills.

The organisation will also submit petitions to both Central and the State governments calling for not allowing any company to use Balpakram Park as a medium of revenue generation at the cost of its wildlife and biodiversity.

The Union said it would hold public meetings if the Government goes ahead with the “exploratory mining”.

The Department of Atomic Energy has already submitted a proposal to de-notify an area of 8sq km for exploratory mining in the Roncheng plateau and the matter is lying with relevant department of the Union Government.

It is learnt that the DAE had proposed the exploratory drilling from 2008 besides it was also one of the agenda of the standing committee meeting of the National Board of Wildlife in 2008.


 

DAE submits proposal to de-notify 8 sq. km area for exploratory mining in Roncheng Plateau

Now uranium mining in Balpakram National Park

Shillong Times 12-04-2010

Shillong: The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has now set its sights on uranium occurring in and around the Balpakram National Park.

A proposal to de-notify an area of 8 sq. km for exploratory mining in the Roncheng Plateau in the environs of Balpakram is already lying with the relevant departments of the Central Government.

Environmentalists are alarmed that this would destroy the fragile pristine biodiversity hotspot of the State which is already waning due to rampant mining of coal and limestone by private individuals.

The DAE had proposed exploratory drilling since 2008. The proposal had been placed as an agenda item in the Standing Committee Meeting of of National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) in December 2008 but could not be taken up for discussion since a detailed proposal was pending.

Any non-forest activity like exploratory drilling inside a national park would need the approval of the NBWL.

It is learnt that the NBWL will be considering the DAE’s proposal in its next meeting scheduled for April 12 next as the detailed proposal has been submitted by the DAE.

Some activists in Garo Hills have filed an RTI application to the State Forest Department if there is a proposal for exploratory mining around Balpakram National Park. The Department affirmed that a proposal from the DAE was received and is pending for approval.

The justification given by DAE is India’s nuclear energy requirement which is to the tune of 20,000 MW by the year 2020.

The Rongcheng Plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills have been identified as the area containing high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits.

Incidentally, the Forest Department has identified some of the rare species of wild life in the area which include the hoolock gibbons, slow loris, tiger and elephant.

Surprisingly the opinion given by the Chief Wild Life Warden to the proposal is that there shall not be much biotic interference in the area and that the entire exercise is unlikely to disturb the landscape or ecology of the area.

Environmental NGOs are questioning whether the Wild Life Warden, not being a physicist is qualified to speak about ecological havoc that could be caused due to nuclear radiation from mining of uranium.

The Balpakram National Park is an important habitat to the endangered Asian elephant and has come under immense pressure from inconsiderate and wreckless coal miners clearing forest on its periphery to facilitate coal mining.

There is a long pending court case about its boundary and compensation made to land owners. Now, Balpakram National Park is on India’s 20,000 MW Nuclear power generation ambition radar.


 

Illegal coal mining in Meghalaya has to stop: SC panel

Due to the provisions of the sixth schedule, the state’s land laws vary from the rest of the country

By Padmaparna Ghosh

New Delhi: A Supreme Court committee on forests has asked for an end to unauthorized coal mining near protected areas in Meghalaya.

The central empowered committee appointed by the apex court has, in a recent letter, asked Meghalaya’s chief secretary to ensure that no mining or laying of roads takes place in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter.

The Supreme Court had directed the committee to examine the matter in January after the Garo Students Union, an activist students’ group, filed a petition before it in November.

The illegal coal mining is taking place in South Garo Hills, bordering the Balpakram National Park, which also covers the Siju Bird Sanctuary.

“Ecologically, this area is one of the seven hotspots in the world with a viable population of elephants of 1,000,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, counsel for the petitioners against the illegal mining.

Balpakram National Park spans more than 200 sq. km and is home to an estimated 550 species, including seven species of primates, more than in any other part of the country. It is also the sole habitat of the Hoolock Gibbon, the only ape found in India.

V.K. Nautiyal, principal chief conservator of forests for Meghalaya, said none of the coal mines in the area were authorized.

He explained that due to the provisions of the sixth schedule of the Constitution, land laws are different in Meghalaya and most of it is controlled by autonomous district councils and their chieftains.

“The land tenure system is strange here, with overlapping jurisdiction. Many different groups might have jurisdiction and we don’t have clear jurisdiction,” Nautiyal said. “Everywhere else, mining is nationalized. Here, we don’t interfere as local people extract coal for their own use, but now it has become much larger in scale.”

Coal mining in the region had been stopped once earlier by the forest department, but was restarted in 2009.

Upadhyay said the problem is symptomatic. “This sort of rampant illegal coal mining is there not just in Meghalaya, but many parts of the northeast.”

According to the Meghalaya government, the state has around 39.6 million tonnes of coal deposits.

This isn’t the only mining-related problem in Meghalaya.

In February, the Supreme Court had stayed the mining of limestone in the state by Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd after hearing a petition filed by 21 local tribals and the Shella Action Committee, a not-for-profit group.

The petitioners had claimed that Lafarge Umiam had obtained environmental clearance by falsely declaring forest areas as wasteland and non-forest areas.

padmaparna.g@livemint.com

http://www.livemint.com/2010/04/03001729/Illegal-coal-mining-in-Meghala.html

 

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The Burning Issue – Feb & Mar 2010

April 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm (Uncategorized)

SC upholds mining ban on Lafarge
French cement company now wants to follow Vedanta
Ankur Paliwal

ON MARCH 29, the Supreme Court rejected the Centre’s plea to allow French cement company Lafarge to continue mining limestone in Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills. The court had stayed mining in the area in February after local residents moved court saying Lafarge obtained mining licence through fraud and without the mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Attorney general G E Vahanvati argued that continuing the stay might sever India’s friendly ties with Bangladesh; the limestone quarried in Meghalaya feeds Lafarge’s cement factory in Sunamganj district of Bangladesh.

The company started mining in the region in 2006 by allegedly obtaining a false certificate that showed the area was wasteland.

“If this court has not allowed anyone to mine without EIA, why should we make an exception for it (Lafarge)?” asked the bench comprising chief justice of India K G Balakrishnan, S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam.

During the hearing Vahanvati submitted a draft proposal saying mining could be allowed by imposing conditions on Lafarge to fund tribal welfare schemes within a 50-km radius of the project. For implementing community development schemes, Vahanvati proposed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) on the lines of the one set up by Vedanta subsidiary, Sterlite Industries, in Orissa for mining Niyamgiri hills.

Vahanvati said the SPV, with equal participation from Lafarge and state government, could be made responsible for administering a community development fund and that Lafarge would pay Rs 10 crore into this fund every year. He said the company could be asked to pay Rs 50 crore for diverting forest land for mining.
The court posted the case for April 9 and asked the attorney general to prepare the modalities for EIA by then and also specify the conditions that could be imposed on Lafarge. Fali S Nariman who appeared for Lafarge said the conditions were acceptable to the company.

The petitioners, Shella Action Committee, said the court order on conducting anEIA amounts to giving an escape route to Lafarge. They said the company should be punished instead and the mining project should be cancelled. “To me this seems like the actual Sterlite model—violate all laws and get them regularized,” said R Shreedhar, geologist with the non-profit, Environics Trust of Delhi.


Bid to save park from coal mining – NGO seeks public support

The Telegraph

Shillong, March 29: Concerned over coal-mining threatening the Balpakram National Park in South Garo Hills, an environment group has sought public support for a legal fight against the activities.

The Delhi-based environment group, Samrakshan Trust, the Meghalaya unit of which is based at Baghmara in South Garo Hills, has also initiated a fund-raising campaign to protect the environment through a legal battle.

Saloni Bhatia, the group’s outreach co-ordinator in a statement issued here said the cancer of illegal mining had now spread to the Balpakram-Baghmara landscape, the last remaining tract of relatively intact habitat that supports elephants, hoolock gibbons, tigers and a variety of other charismatic wildlife.

“In addition, the region is also home to at least 268 species of birds and over 450 butterflies according to the last count,” the statement said, adding that there are reports that the state is also gearing up to explore the possibility of uranium in Balpakram National Park.

The Garo Students’ Union (GSU) had spearheaded the fight against illegal mining in the Balpakram-Baghmara landscape. Prosper Marak, the GSU president (southern zone), Baghmara, was even honoured with the Sanctuary Young Naturalist Award by Sanctuary Asia, a magazine, and the Royal Bank of Scotland in December last year for the campaign.

Apart from the GSU, a group of NGOs from South Garo Hills — Youth Development and Vigilance Committee, Southern Youth and Cultural Organisation, Siju Ecotourism and Conservation Society, Siju Youth Socio Cultural Organisation and the Tura Government College Students’ Union have come together to fight the battle against illegal coal mining.

“In addition to building an anti-mining movement on the ground, the coalition is also engaged in litigation as one of its strategies. This is necessary in order to get a ‘breathing space’ for the larger anti-mining movement to build up pressure,” Bhatia said.

According to Marak, direct action by the GSU southern zone and other NGOs had resulted in intervention by the empowered committee of the Supreme Court to stop illegal coal mining in Gongrot Aking, which is close to the Balpakram National Park.

During the hearing of the petition filed by the NGOs on March 16 in the Supreme Court regarding coal mining in Gongrot Aking, the state government admitted that while no mining leases had been given unauthorised clearing of forest had taken place.

“We are supporting the Garo Students’ Union in four different litigation — two each in the Supreme Court and the remaining two in the Shillong bench of Gauhati High Court,” Bhatia said, adding that legal action is necessary in order to slow down the mining activities.

“Apart from legal action, we are also engaged in building a people’s movement against mining. Undertaking research to support such action and lobbying with the government are the measures being taken,” Bhatia said.

The Samrakshan Trust has sought both financial and moral support from the people of the country to curb mining legally and secure the future of the vulnerable region.

The fear of the NGOs is that indiscriminate mining, particularly in the forest and ecologically sensitive areas will cause severe depletion of forest cover and water sources for people as well as wildlife.

There is also the fear of largescale influx of migrant labourers, including Bangladeshis, coupled with increase in the incidents of crime, particularly extortion in the coal belts.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100330/jsp/northeast/story_12277183.jsp


Supreme court order banning mining in Meghalaya lands India in diplomatic soup

24 March 2010

(New Delhi, India) — Supreme Court’s order last month turning off supply of limestone on environmental grounds from Meghalaya to French cement giant Lafarge’s $255 million cement plant in Bangladesh has put India in a piquant diplomatic situation.

The Sheikh Hasina regime deputed senior officials to New Delhi to seek urgent intervention of the Manmohan Singh government saying stoppage of raw material guaranteed in 2001 by India would mean a 15% fall in cement production in Bangladesh and a severe setback to its housing projects.

The Nicolas Sarkozy government too activated its embassy in New Delhi to take up the issue with India, saying the French company’s cement venture in Bangladesh was an important initiative to generate employment in the natural disaster ravaged country as well as to fight poverty.

In this background, attorney general Goolam E Vahanvati on Tuesday made an urgent mention of the matter before a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and B S Chauhan.

Without attempting to veil the magnitude of the diplomatic embarrassment being faced by India, the AG said SC had been misled into passing the order stopping limestone supply to the cement plant in Bangladesh “causing a huge international problem” for India. The Bench agreed to list the matter for hearing on March 26.

The February 5 order stopping mining in East Khasi Hill District till further orders came with a sense of outrage from the Forest Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam, which took exception to tribal land being allegedly transferred in violation of rules to the French company’s subsidiary and then mortgaged to a host of foreign banks for raising a loan of $153 million.

Petitioner `Shella Action Committee’ had alleged that not only was the land, falling under Schedule VI of the Constitution banning its transfer to non-tribals, illegally taken over in collusion with local officials, but mining was started without the mandatory clearance from ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

Amicus curiae Harish Salve and A D N Rao had said the eco-fragile area was opened up without the mandatory forest clearance and the raw material was being sent to Bangladesh at cost price, depriving India of huge revenue from customs and other duties.

Unaware of the huge diplomatic row the government was walking into, additional solicitor general Harin Raval, who appeared for MoEF, had told the court that the ministry had clearly issued an order in May 2007 staying the mining operations, but the SC had allowed it to go on.

Lafarge Umuiam Mining Pvt Ltd (LUMPL) was mining the limestone quarry area spread over 100 hectares near Indo-Bangladesh border for supply of raw material to Lafarge Surma Cement Project at Chhatak in Sunamganj, Bangladesh.

Lafarge and Spanish cement producer Cementos Mollins had set up the state-of-the-art fully integrated cement plant at Chhatak with a captive power plant of 300 mw. In 2001, the Bangladesh high commissioner and then Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh had signed an agreement for uninterrupted supply of raw material to the plant from the mines in Meghalaya.

After this agreement, Lafarge had claimed to have obtained relevant clearances from MoEF, the state government, the autonomous hill council and the chief conservator of forest for limestone quarrying in East Khasi Hills.

By: Dhananjay Mahapatra
Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/SC-order-banning-mining-in-Meghalaya-lands-India-in-diplomatic-soup/articleshow/5716686.cms


Lafarge denies mining in Meghalaya despite court ban

March 20th, 2010 – 6:19 pm ICT by IANS

Shillong, March 20 (IANS) Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited (LUMPL), a subsidiary of French firm Lafarge, Saturday dismissed a civil society group’s allegations that the company was ignoring the Supreme Court’s stay on mining in Meghalaya.
On Thursday, Shella Action Committee (SAC), a Meghalaya-based civil society group, accused Lafarge of carrying on with quarrying activities in Shella, bordering Bangladesh, some 100 km South from here.

LUML termed the allegations “unsubstantiated” and said, “There is nothing new in the allegations made by the SAC…they have been advocating against the continuation of the project on various fictitious grounds for a long time.”

According to an e-mailed statement issued here, Lafarge claimed: “Similar allegations made by the NGO in a case filed in Gauhati High Court were examined by the Meghalaya government and found to be false and baseless. Accordingly, the state government had filed an affidavit in the court.”

The quarries operated by Lafarge subsidiary Lum Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd in Meghalaya supply limestone for its $250 million Lafarge Surma Cement plant at Chhatak in Bangladesh, located just 10 km away from the quarries across the Indo-Bangladesh border. The limestone is sent through a 17-km-long cross-border conveyor belt.

On Feb 5, the apex court ordered the French firm to immediately stop its mining operations following SAC’s allegations that the firm has raised funds from various international banks after mortgaging the state’s land it had fraudulently transferred to itself.

The bench ordered LUMPL to stop its mining operations in Meghalaya on a lawsuit by SAC.

The lawsuit alleged that the French firm transferred the land belonging to tribals to itself in collusion with some local groups.

The lawsuit alleged that the firm later “mortgaged the tribal land to foreign banks like the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Deutsche Investitutions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, the European Investment Bank, the Arab Bangladesh Bank and the Standard Chartered Bank”.

SAC legal adviser B.M. Roy Dolloi said Lafarge is ignoring the apex court’s stay by carrying on with the mining operations during the stay period.


Green warriors of the Garo hills

By Teresa Rehman

Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills are under serious threat from illegal coal mining. The Garo Students Union, and its dynamic leader Prosper S Marak, have been battling to preserve the biodiversity of this region. Marak was declared Earth Hero for 2009 and also won the Young Naturalist Award for 2009.

In Meghalaya’s inaccessible South Garo Hills, an ‘eco-mutiny’ went virtually unnoticed. Except for the fact that eco-warrior Prosper S Marak, president of the southern zone of the powerful student body, the Garo Students Union (GSU), was declared one of the Earth Heroes of 2009 by Sanctuary Asia and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and was awarded the prestigious ‘Young Naturalist Award’ in December 2009.   The award statement read: “The Young Naturalist Award is presented to the 24-year-old emerging green warrior Prosper S Marak for his work to protect the biodiversity of the rich Garo hills of Meghalaya, and who continues to inspire young men and women in the state to protect their natural heritage.” Prosper Marak grew up just outside the forests of Balpakram National Park and Siju Wildlife Sanctuary. He learnt to love and respect nature at a very young age.

Marak was instrumental in leading a youth uprising in five hamlets in Gongrot, in South Garo Hills, taking the ‘illegal’ miners completely by surprise. In his acceptance speech, he said: “I accept this award on behalf of my colleagues in GSU who have fought tooth-and-nail to preserve Balpakram National Park and the amazing wildlife of the Garo Hills.”

The story goes back to November 2008 when an attempt was made to open up a new coal mine on the periphery of Balpakram National Park. Like all coal mining in Meghalaya, no environmental clearance or related permissions had been taken for the mine. There are approximately seven laws under which clearance has to be sought by state and central bodies before any mining activity can be initiated. In any case, coal mining cannot be undertaken by private individuals as all coal (including that in Meghalaya) was nationalised in 1967.   In blatant violation of the law of the land, ‘illegal’ coal mines continue to flourish all over Meghalaya. Local people in the Garo hills and other parts of the state operate the mines on their lands without any mining leases by the state government, under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, that was amended in 1976.

The disputed mine was being planned in an aking called Gongrot (tracts of community land in the Garo hills are called aking). Since Gongrot is a remote aking, a road has first to be built to connect the mining area to the existing PWD road. This connecting road would have passed partly through Gongrot and partly through another aking called Halwa Atong. In order to build the road, standing forests in both akings would have had to be cut down.

In July last year, contractors came with bulldozers and began clearing the forests. The GSU swung into action. They seized the bulldozer and handed it over to the police. A protracted legal battle ensued; in the intervening period young men and women cleared the debris and began to reforest the area. They took turns patrolling the restored lands to ensure that the miners did not return to destroy what had been resurrected. “This was a symbolic act of taking the land back from the miners and returning it to the forest. All these years, our ancestors have been protecting our forests,” says Marak. The protests startled the illegal mining mafia as well as the government that is reluctant to regulate mining in the state. Indeed, Meghalaya is the only state in the country where private ‘illegal’ mining flourishes without any hindrance. Now, thanks to the pressure, Meghalaya has put together a mining policy that is being closely assessed and will have an impact far beyond Balpakram.

Marak’s associate Ginseng Sangma, also a student, believes the protests were the least they could do for the community and the forests they grew up in. They convinced over 100 school and college students to join in the innovative non-violent protest by replanting the forest stretch that had been destroyed by the bulldozers.

Sangma, now a second-year BA student at Captain Williamson Magor Memorial College in Baghmara reminisces about the early days when many species of wild animals roamed the forests, including elephants and leopards. “Now, even the lush streams have dried up due to the rampant deforestation. Forests have been cut and converted into orchards. If the trend goes on, all our natural treasures will disappear and there will be nothing left for future generations,” he says.  Protests against illegal mining have been ongoing in Meghalaya’s Garo hills where a group of NGOs and citizens have set up the Chitmang Hills Anti-Mining Forum against unplanned and unscientific mining. Chitmang is the name of a peak — the highest in the South Garo Hills — that’s considered sacred among Garo society. In view of its importance and considering the threat to the entire region from mining, the anti-mining forum has chosen its name well.   Spearheaded by the Samrakshan Trust, the forum also comprises the Garo Students Union (GSU), Youth Development and Vigilance Committee, Southern Youth and Cultural Organisation, Atong Cultural Organisation, Siju Youth Socio-Cultural Organisation, Achik Tourism Society, Achik Youth and Cultural Organisation and Siju Ecotourism and Cultural Society.  Arpan Sarma of the Samrakshan Trust says: “What is happening in Balpakram is a subset of a larger malaise. People are disgusted with the rampant illegal mining in the state.”

Apart from Balpakram National Park and Baghmara Reserve Forest, the area comprises nearly 400 sq km of community-owned lands spread over 36 akings. A large proportion of this land is forested and used by local people to earn a livelihood.

Samrakshan helps local communities set up community conservation reserves aimed at preserving forested habitats on community-owned lands. It is also working in Balpakram-Baghmara to ensure that elephant habitats and critical corridors remain accessible for use by the animals.

The forum has appealed to various statutory and traditional tribal authorities. “We have sent a petition to the regional office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests in Shillong regarding violations of the Forest Conservation Act. We have also filed a complaint with the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council regarding prosecution of the headmen of Gongrot and Halwa Atong akings for felling standing forests to pave the way for illegal mining,” says Asith Sangma, president of the forum.  Asith explains that Balpakram National Park, apart from being an ecological hotspot, is also a sacred place in the hills. It is called ‘land of the eternal death’ in Garo mythology, as it is believed that the spirits of the dead reside here.

“We don’t want to create another Jharia (Jharkhand)-like situation here. We will have to protect this area at the cost of our lives,” Asith says. Jharia, a town in Jharkhand, had to be shifted due to coal mine fires that could not be controlled.

(Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in northeast India. She was awarded the Sarojini Naidu Award for Best Reporting on Women and Panchayati Raj in 2007 and the Sanskriti Award for Excellence in Journalism 2009)


UCIL allegedly planning to mine uranium in BNP

Written by the Editor
Tuesday, 16 February 2010 09:46
Garo Hills News Agency

TURA, Feb. 14: The Government of Meghalaya, facing the brunt of various NGOs over the proposed uranium mining in Khasi Hills district, is all set to face similar fate in Garo Hills, as Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) has sought for No Objection Certificate from the Ministry of Environment & Forest, Government of India to look for a possibility of uranium in Balpakram National Park, one of India’s bio-diversity rich areas home to some of world’s endangered flora and fauna in South Garo Hills.
The park is already under threat from poachers and illegal coal miners. Time and again media and environmentalists have raised the issue of illegal mining in the BNP but the concerned authorities are yet to take notice to save the region situated along the Indo-Bangla border.

The national park known for its varied species of flora and fauna and endangered plant and animal species, is a popular tourist attraction drawing researchers from across the globe. It is also known for its mystical stories and folklore.

Prosper Marak, a young environmentalist and president of Garo Students’ Union (GSU) who bagged the prestigious Young Naturalist Award 2009 under the category Earth Heroes in Mumbai conferred by Sanctuary Asia and the Royal Bank of Scotland last November, in an interview informed that UCIL has sought for clearance from the concerned authorities to look for a possibility on the presence of uranium in Balpakram.

“On November 2, I met the Director of Bombay Natural Historical Society, Arshad Rahman, who informed me that UCIL has sought for clearance from the Ministry to look for uranium in BNP. We strongly criticise it and will never allow anybody to exploit our natural resources. We are discussing the matter with our Khasi counterpart, who is opposing mining in Khasi Hills areas”, said the young environmentalist.

Marak, led by his student body, has strongly criticised the move and is taking measures to ensure that the initiative will not materialise.

http://www.meghalayatimes.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7933:ucil-allegedly-planning-to-mine-uranium-in-bnp&catid=44:front-page&Itemid=28

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