In a nutshell the history of mining in Meghalaya started with sand and stone quarrying, mining of limestone for making paints for white washing and using the same as paste while consuming beetle nuts and paan.
But industrial mining of limestone is less than ten years old, although earlier there were two small cement plants in the state–Mawmluh Cherra cement and the Jaintia Cement–but it was only very recently that mega cement plants came to set shop in the area.
Mining of limestone for use in the various big cement plants was very recently particularly in the Elaka Narpuh of East Jaintia hills district of Meghalaya. The government does not consider the sustainability of the industrial activity in the area when it allow setting up of more than 8 cement plants and their captive power plants in an area with a radius of less than 5 KM.
The areas where the cement plants are located are also very close to the Narpuh Wildlife Santuary of Meghalaya, the farthest will be by radius; less than 5 KM from the reserve forest.
Limestone was also mined by the native of the place for export to Bangladesh; mining on the Indo-Bangladesh border particularly in the Nongtalang and Pynursla village was carried out with total disregard to the effect that it has on the environment. The tribal of the area on the pretext that they own the land, feel that they can do whatever they like with the land they owned.
Although in the pre-independence period people in the Wapung and Chyrmang area used to mine coal at a very small scale and supply the same to the British officer for use in their Bungalows and to the missionaries for use in their hospitals and houses. Commercial mining of coal in the erstwhile Jaintia hills district was started only in the early 1970, but the damage done to the environment is beyond measure.
Rat hole mining of coal also put the entire area under thread from earth caving-in and because mining was done underground and there were reports of land crevices in different parts of the East District of Jaintia hills.
Water bodies in the entire coal mining areas are affected and rivers were polluted and all signs of aqua life in the rivers have gone.
NEEPCO reported that the acidic water of the rivers in the coal mining area has affected their power plants and that machines exposed to the river water has unnaturally corroded which in turn has an effect on the expected lifespan of the Kupli Hydroelectric project in the Assam Meghalaya border.
The main causes that led to the rapid environmental degradation in Meghalaya is due to the absent of any kind of regulation or policy to check rampant mining in the area. Coal mining in the state is being carried out without any environmental clearance, mining lease or any kind of permission either from the state or the central government agencies.
It is also unfortunate that the state is also losing the exotic caves in the area, to mining. There are hundreds of caves in the state that has been surveyed and mapped by the MAA are under the threat of being damage and some are found to be on the list of the longest and the deepest cave in the country, but all these are going to be history if the state is not interested in protecting the environment.
In the case of Meghalaya, both the district councils and the state have failed in their duty to protect and preserve the rivers which are the lifeline of the people and unfortunately all the rivers in the coal mining areas particularly in the two districts of Jaintia hills have become dead rivers. After the NGT ban on coal mining in the state in 2014; all political parties now went gung-ho and promised to do something to lift the ban.
This has become one of the main election issues of all the parties across political spectrum, but until and unless the state comes up with a policy which will also take care of the environment, the ban will continue. The need of the hour is to come up with a policy which is also look at sustainability of the activity.
Mohrmen is a freelance writer and environment activist based in Jowai, Meghalaya. He can be reached at [email protected]