Shillong: Meghalaya Forest and Environment Minister James Sangma informed the House that the state has not taken any decision concerning oil palm cultivation and that they are awaiting guidelines to be issued by the Centre.

Responding to a question raised by MLA Mohendro Rapsang, Sangma said that no due diligence has been conducted by the department so far on the matter.

Rapsang also asked if the government was monitoring parties from private sector to carry out palm oil cultivation in the state. Sangma responded that this question should have been pointed at the minister in charge of agriculture and horticulture.

The minister clarified that, under Forest Conservation Act, clearance has to sought for any kind of diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. He added that he shares the concerns of the members regarding protecting the state’s biodiversity. “I want to inform the members that there is cultivable waste land to the tune of 3,90,000 hectares, and if state government were to go ahead, there is cultivable wasteland available.”

Countering the minister’s response, Rapsang asked whether the government has conducted a study about the impact and disadvantages of oil palm cultivation.

“We are very concerned about our biodiversity and ecology, which is very fragile. We won’t take any steps that will affect the ecology or delicate biodiversity of the state,” responded Sangma.

Joining the question hour session, MLA HM Shangpliang highlighted how the Central government was pushing all the northeastern states to implement the oil palm project and how it has even earmarked a huge amount of money to be invested.

Shangpliang also demanded the Chief Minister share what transpired in the virtual meeting between Union Minister of DoNER and all the CMs of the northeastern states held on August 13.

Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said, “The GoI informed us its intention to support farming and plantation in the oil palm sector. Some of the CMs showed interest. Arunachal state said they have lots of wasteland; even Mizoram showed interest. But there were some states, including Meghalaya, who said we will first need to examine.”

The CM added that the state government was very concerned about the environment and said the government is working to increasing forest cover by at least 400-500 sq km.

“We have not taken any decision whether to go ahead with oil palm cultivation. We need to examine this; it is a very delicate matter. But we also need to see the opportunity that exists because of the fact that the GoI is going to pump in a lot of money for it. Just because they will be giving money it does not mean that we will compromise on our environment or compromise on our state and people. We will take everyone along,” said the chief minister.

MLA Charles Pyngrope said the state should pass a law or Bill barring cultivation of palm oil because “the entire world has rejected this”.

“Yes, there is a lot of money but can it be at the cost of lives of the people and the state?” Pyngrope asked.

Responding to it, the minister in charge said that the government was very much aware and concerned about the same.

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