Star Cement public hearing stalled by residents of Narpuh area in Meghalaya Credit: EastMojo image

Shillong: Announcing that no companies will be allowed to extend their mining lease agreements in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, people in large numbers said that the move will cause destruction to the environment and affect the tourism potential of the area near Lukha river.

Participating in a recent rally organised to register their protest during a public hearing held by Star Cement, one of the largest cement manufacturers in Northeast India, for the extension of limestone mining activities in Brichyrnot village in East Jaintia Hills district, general secretary of 6-Shnong Wah Lukha Association, Daiapherbha Lamare, told EastMojo, “We will ensure that the public hearing does not take place at any cost. If this mining takes place then there will be no Lukha river in the future.”

People in large numbers, including representatives from NGOs, students and others, took part in the protest rally and raised their voice against the proposal of expansion of the mining lease in the district. A massive crowd were seen gathering at the road, several local NGOs turned up to back the 6-Shnong Wah Lukha Association, which was leading the protest. Local NGOs like Khasi Students Union, Jaintia Students Union, Rural Urban Development Society and several other groups took part in the protest rally.

“Many people will die because of global warming. We are not opposing development but we’ve seen that these companies just use us and we don’t share any benefit for development in the area. Many local NGOs have joined us and oppose the hearing. We will not allow this mining proposal go through,” said Lamare.

STIEH president Deiwi Tongper said, “So far, what I’ve seen here in Lumshnong, people don’t get enough water to drink. One has to purchase drinking water. The reason why drinking water is not available is because cement particles are found in water. Global warming is another main issue that we are opposing this mining. We are concerned about nature and animals. Many of these cement factories set up their companies and all they do is drain the wealth of the people and people here become slaves being paid just a mere Rs 5,000 to 6,000.”

Tongper also added that the livelihood of the people of Lukha depends majorly on the Lukha river and that they have been suffering for the past many years.

Rural Urban Development Society president Haranki Syrti said, “We have seen politicians and even our chief minister talking so much about the environment and urging people to plant trees. But once they approve this proposal, how are we going to breathe? The air will be polluted and we will all die because of climate change.”

Khasi Students Union organising secretary Leningrad Tariang said, “The people here have been fooled by the cement companies. They were promised jobs but that never happened. Whenever children drink water from Lukha river they always fall ill. Star Cement does not have a proper dumping place. So now, if we don’t take any action the future generation is going to die.”

The public hearing took an ugly turn as people from Narpuh area gathered on the road leading to Brichyrnot and blocked the road with boulders so that villagers failed to attend the hearing.

The deputy commissioner, who was the chairman of the public hearing committee, was also stopped from attending the programme.

Star Cement had proposed to expand limestone mining covering an area of 42.051 hectares. A large section of people are objecting the proposal citing the reason that the area, in which the proposed expansion proposal has been made, is a forest area near Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary and also near Lukha river.

Assistant headman of Brichyrnot, Cormilus Massar said, “There are close to 80 houses in Brichyrnot village. We feel ashamed of what these people are doing. It’s really unfortunate that we have not been able to cross the road, as it has already been blocked by the protesters. If they want to oppose the hearing, they should go there to the venue and share their problems. Our village has seen some growth because of the contribution from the Star Cement. We have never done any limestone mining in the past. This is the first instance and we want to give it a chance. We have only given areas to the company where we can’t grow anything on that. We don’t have schools in Brichyrnot village except one where students can read up to Class V. The company has helped us with school buses to drop school children to go to schools in town. We have even given NoC letter to the company but these people keep obstructing the work. So, we are in favour of Star Cement as we are benefiting from this project in our village.”

While visiting uphill to Brichyrnot village, Star Cement officials were seen disappointed with the deputy commissioner not being able to handle the situation. Management representative of Star Cement, Devender Bansal, said, “The village has given the NoC and even the whole village people are in favour of the company. But as seen, the local NGOs have opposed this project. There are several benefits for the village. Roads would be built, electricity would be in place, even village funds will be there and many other benefits will be offered to the locals.”

“There are some who are not giving the right information and are trying to divert people’s minds. The people have not been well-informed on limestone mining. There is no chemical coming out of limestone and we are only doing mining activities. For carrying out these mining activities, we have protocols to follow. We have to ensure that these mines are bounded by plantation, the water from the plantation cannot go out,” the company official said.

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