India’s dream of being an energy secured nation suffered a setback on Wednesday when the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council stopped exploratory drilling in uranium-rich South West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya.
The Atomic Minerals Directorate bowed under the pressure of the KHADC and has announced its decision to stop exploratory drilling in uranium-rich deposits South West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya.
The prime mandate of Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research is to identify and evaluate uranium resources required for the successful implementation of civil Atomic Energy program of the country.
The AMD officials were attacked and machines were set on fire at Wahkaji on July 25 when they went there to take sub surface samples.
AMD regional director Sandeep Hamilton and deputy regional director, Rahul Banerjee on Wednesday were summoned by the KHADC and they announced their decision to discontinue exploratory drilling operations in the state after meeting the KHADC executive member in-charge of mines and minerals, Latiplang Kharkongor.
“The AMD is not involved in uranium mining. The department has taken a very conscious view that we will respect the sentiments of the people and we will go with the state. We will not venture for mining without taking the sentiments of the people,” Hamilton told reporters.
Claiming that AMD is an exploration agency, Banerjee said, “We are in research of atomic minerals not only uranium but other things as well. The AMD has got the mandate for search and research for atomic minerals and no mandate for mining. Mining is being done by a different agency and our work ends after the search and research of atomic minerals which include a number of elements not only uranium.”
“We were doing small boreholes of 20-30 metres to extract some samples for doing research and development for studying laboratory purposes, analysis and microscopic study. People mistook us as those from the UCIL, which is a public sector undertaking for carrying mining, but we are purely scientists from the Central government,” Banerjee said.
Asked about the permission given to the AMD regional office to carry out the exploratory works in the uranium-rich areas of South West Khasi Hills district, the AMD officials said that AMD is a pan India organization and these types of exploration activities are done throughout the country in different states and places.
“We have annual field season programmes and our department informs every state’s chief secretary about the work going to be taken up in those areas. That intimation goes to every state chief secretary. If we require any assistance or any type of support, then we certainly go to the district administration to seek their permission and help. We have been doing this type of exercise for so many years everywhere, but we did not know that this type of incident would happen. Otherwise we would not have gone there,” he said.
Hamilton said that under the Atomic Energy Act 1962, to work anywhere in India, only permission from local landowner if at all required should be sought for the collection of samples whether surface or sub surface since “we are not doing mining.”
But the AMD had also received a letter from the headman of Mawthabah village on April 4 this year expressing support to the exploratory drilling of uranium in the area, and assured to provide land for boreholes to be drilled for by the AMD.
“We are also ready to provide logistic support and cooperation for the uranium exploration conducted by the AMD,” the letter said.
However Hamilton informed that that now the activities have totally stopped after the incident on July 25.
“From now onwards, and we will not do any work in Meghalaya. We have stopped working in Meghalaya. We have taken a conscious decision after seeing the situation and the sentiments of the people. We may look at some other states also, but as far as Meghalaya is concerned, we decided to close down the operations,” Hamilton announced.