The Northeastern state of Meghalaya has been a very sensitive state when it comes to environmental issues and conflicts. The state covers an area of approximately 22,430 square kilometers and is the wettest region of India, recording an average of 12,000 mm (470 in) of rain a year. Moreover, about 70% of the state is covered by forest, which can be termed as a unique location. The Meghalaya subtropical forests and ecoregion encompasses the state; its mountain forests are distinct from the lowland tropical forests to the north and south. The forests are notable for their biodiversity of mammals, birds, and plants. Unfortunately, despite having such a rich environmental background, Meghalaya has faced some of the biggest environmental and ecological challenges including deforestation and climate change in the recent past. Northeast Today writes
At a time when the people of the state are plagued with the consequences of climate change such as floods, landslides, loss of life and a pandemic, which created both economical and health crises –the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 came as a big shock to the concerned citizens of the state. The EIA, which actually never opened for public debate created fear among the people of the state in the backdrop of recent tragedies such as the Assam’s Baghjan Oil Well Massive fire and Vizag Gas leak. In such a situation, EIA faced strong protests in the state from students body and opposition political parties.
The Khasi Students Union (KSU), the student body of the Khasi community expressed strong opposition against EIA, 2020 citing that the move of the Centre to do away with the public consultation could be an attempt to forcefully mine uranium in the state. KSU has demanded the Centre to immediately withdraw the proposed amendments of the draft EIA notification 2020. KSU has been always vocal on issues related to the environment and traditional rights of the people of Meghalaya in the past too.
“We highly suspect that the move to do away with holding of public hearings or public consultations is an attempt to mine uranium,” KSU chief Lambokstar Marngar stated to media.
He also slammed the state government and the three autonomous district council (ADCs) for keeping quiet on this issue. “We urge them to be more vigilant and ensure that the Centre is not allowed to implement laws which go against the interest of the people and the state,” Marngar said. Marngar also said the EIA is against the unique land tenure system in the state as well as the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. The Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in Meghalaya are namely the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. Since, such autonomous councils survive on funds provided by both state and central government, its unlikely that these councils will oppose EIA.
KSU also sent a letter to the Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar expressing their concern over the matter of EIAs impact on Meghalaya. “Several red and orange industries have been moved from Category A (which needs expert appraisal) to Category B1 or B2, which have lesser EIA processes and B2 industries don’t need public consultation or EAC reports. These include, but are not limited to chemical manufacturing and petroleum products, modernization of irrigation, buildings, construction and area development, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways, all projects concerning national defence and security or involving ‘other strategic considerations’ as determined by Central Government,” the letter said. In the letter, KSU requested the ministry to immediately withdraw the proposed amendments of the draft EIA notification, 2020 and consider reissuing the draft only after health condition related to the pandemic COVID-19 and the civic life is normalized across the nation.
Along with KSU, the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) has also opposed EIA. PDF, who are part of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NDA). In a statement issued on August 9, L Mawphlang, general secretary of People’s Democratic Front (PDF) of Meghalaya, informed that a delegation consisting of the four party MLAs, chairman and the general secretary of the party met the Chief Minister and expressed concern over the draft EIA notification, 2020. (PDF) has sought the intervention of Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on the issue related to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020.
“(We) request the CM to urge the Ministry to consider for re-evaluation and reassessment of the draft EIA notification, 2020 as it can contradict with the traditional customs and practices of the indigenous people of the state and most importantly sustainable development cannot be achieved without integrating environmental aspects in our policies and programmes,” Mawphlang said.