Shillong: Following their recent public rally demanding the closure of illegal coke plants in Elaka Sutnga, the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC), Elaka Sutnga, East Jaintia Hills, on Tuesday met with Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma to apprise him of their demands.

More than a thousand people had taken part in the public rally on Monday which saw the participation of protesters from various villages under Elaka Sutnga.

After their meeting with the CM, the committee’s legal adviser Reading War said the CM has given assurance to immediately shut down the plants and that there shall be no establishment or operation of the 31 coke plants (established and operating illegally) plus the 3 coke factories which have not obtained Consent To Establish (CTE).

Speaking with media persons, War said that they have demanded the dismantling of the factories and permanent closure. War raised questions on Environment Minister James Sangma’s response during the zero hour notice that 30 closure notice has been given to coke plants who have established without Consent To Operate (CTO).

“The govt issuing a closure notice to those plants that have violated the norms is a wrong move by the govt. If someone has committed a crime the govt cannot issue a notice on that instead they should take stringent actions. We demand a permanent closure and physical action from the government’s end. The CM has assured that they would act immediately,” he said.

Concerning the remaining 10 factories that have obtained the CTO, War said that the CM cannot do anything unless valid proof can be brought that these factories are violating the norms and criteria.

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“We have submitted the complaints backing it with evidence. These factories which have obtained CTO have been flouting the norms. They have established and operated within human habitation areas; they have established five to 10 units within 1 kilometre. However, in the CTO and CTE they have obtained the permission for a standalone unit. Emissions of all dangerous pollutants and particulate matters into the atmosphere without implementing of any equipment… all of these we have provided to the CM,” mentioned War.

War further expressed disappointment with n the representatives from Jaintia Hills for “failing to speak on the ill effect of coke factories”. He said that it was “surprising” to see an MLA from another district speak on this issue.

Meanwhile, ECC member Dr Marjan Chyrmang also highlighted to the chief minister how hazardous the coke factories are for the people living in Elaka Sutnga.

Dr Chyrmang said yesterday thousands of people took part in this protest for their own safety. “Everybody wants clean air to breathe. They have raised one voice and that is the coke factories should be closed irrespective of the CTO or CTE. Just because they have the CTO/CTE doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t mean health issues are gone. These plants don’t install pollution control devices; they function as it is and that is a major concern,” added Dr Chyrmang.

He said the state government should be concerned about the general public and that health should take precedence over the investments.

“In our field there is medical term called modern epidemic. This term is used for chronic condition like TB and diabetes. This is no less than an epidemic or a pandemic. The coke factories and the concerns over the effect that they have on general public is no less than an epidemic. In less than 10-15 years people will suffer and may develop cancer. Through our research we have found that in the toxic emissions from burning of coal there are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This should be the main concern of the government,” said Dr Chyrmang.

The environment committee said the government should not just concentrate on employment and development because there is no development if health is affected. He added that the government should take corrective measures before it is too late.

The ECC have time and again been demanding for the closure of these coke plants and have cited that it has caused major problems for the local residents. Earlier, not only adults but even school students were seen taking part in the public rally demanding for their basic right of breathing clean air.

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