Meghalaya Cabinet minister Hamletson Dohling, has written to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to reconsider the clearance given by the ministry for expansion of limestone mining in the state’s East Jaintia Hills.
In his letter to Javadekar sent on Monday, Dohling has said: “With great pain I write to you regarding issuance of Environmental Clearance by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Impact Assessment Division to M/S Star Cement Meghalaya Ltd for Bryshirnot Limestone Division I in East Jaintia Hills District Meghalaya…despite stiff opposition from villagers and NGOs in the public hearing held on 19.10.2019, 31.01.2009 and 21.11.2020 conducted by Deputy Commissioner East Jaintia Hills district. It seems environmental clearance has been issued based only on the Deputy Commissioner, East Jaintia Hill’s Deputy Commissioner’s recommendation.’’
The minister also said in the letter that the project has been exempt from the requirement of a public hearing.
Dohling is a leader of regional party People’s Democratic Front party — a BJP ally and also a member of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance.
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The environmental clearance, granted to Star Cement Meghalaya on June 8th, involves the expansion of an existing limestone mine. The proposed expansion is for 42 hectares of land. The minister and residents of the area have been objecting to the expansion on grounds of environmental sensitivity of the area.
“There are a number of problematic issues with this environmental clearance. The proposed area for expansion falls very close to the Lukha river, and our concern is that it will lead to the pollution of this river, which the locals depend on not only for water but also for fish. The proposed area is also close to the Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary, which is adjacent to the mining area,” said Dohling.
Spanning across 60 square kilometres, the Narpuh wildlife sanctuary was notified in 2014 and is home to the Indian Elephant, Hoolock Gibbons, Capped Langur, Stump Tailed Macaque, Clouded Leopard, Leopard, Gaur, Sambar, Barking Deer, Himalayan Black Bear and Sloth Bear
“But what is also problematic is that the clearance has been given despite stiff opposition to the project from the residents of the area as well as some of our biggest NGOs – including the Khasi Students Union as well as other student bodies. The student bodies have categorically said that they will not allow the expansion of mining – any mining – in the state,” Dohling pointed out.
Clashes had broken out in November 2020, ahead of the last public hearing on the project, between local residents and security forces in which seven policemen were injured.
Residents say the project will affect at least 15 villages adversely in East Jaintia Hills. The Jaintia Students Union has also registered complaints against the project with the National Green Tribunal as well as with the Environment Ministry.
Over the weekend, different civil bodies began a petition online to stop the project which has now gone viral in the state.
Meanwhile Star Cement Meghalaya’s proposal says that the life of the mine is to be for 11 years with a grant of prior Environmental Clearance at a production rate of 2.507 million tonnes of Limestone as per MoEFCC EIA Notifications. With a proposed project cost of Rs 16 crores, the mine has been proposed as a “fully mechanised open cast mine” with drilling and blasting in two shift operations.
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