The Star Cement Limited which is operating from Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya is in the news, this time precisely for wrong reason. The company which is extracting 9 lakh tons of limestone annually is proposing to raise it to 25 lakh tons per year. For this purpose a public hearing was conducted by Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board and East Jaintia Hills Administrators in collaboration with Star Cement which was opposed by the Village, Headman and school children. Floating all the rules, the public hearing was held at campus of Star Cement at Lumshnong where it was difficult for the people to raise their concern about environmental degradation with such large scale extraction of limestone.
It may be noted that in Jaintia Hills, there are large number of caves which took thousands of years to form are already destroyed by various cement companies because of its location at the close proximity to caves in the region.
Surprisingly Meghalaya has been termed and declared as the ‘World Capital of Caves’ which offers unique opportunity adventure tourism in the region. Local people alleged this action of expansion will lead to environmental degradation; land degradation and water pollution, where all this serious impact was never examined in the right prospective.
On March 20, hundreds of villagers from Lumshnong and nearby of East Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya registered strong protest opposing public hearing for expansion of limestone mining in the area, conducted by Meghalaya Pollution Control Board and Deputy Commissioner of the district in the office premises of Star Cement Pvt Ltd. Protesters went up to Khub site limestone mining owned by Star Cement and blocked road to stop the officials, who came to conduct the hearing order issued by Ministry of Forest and Environment.
The message of the people of Lumshnong village, East Jaintia Hills is loud and clear on the company regarding their disapproval on the public hearing. Public outrage there was to reject the decision of the company to increase their production from 9 to 25 metric tons.
This mindless limestone mining are destroying and damaging the Caves, which take million years to form through a chemical process. Random mining leaves a trail of devastation of caves coupled with deforestation, soil erosion, sending soil down into caves and altering the cave’s drainage pattern in the around mining area.
The major raw materials required to manufacture cement are Limestone and coal. The limestone requirement of the plant is estimated to be about 2.4 mtpa with daily requirement of 6200 tonnes, which is estimated to be over 74,000 mtpa
Coal mining not only affects the forest environment but also damages the natural caves system while the acidic water gets down into the caves changing cave chemistry. With resident mining culture to fulfil the modern motifs of economic growth, Meghalaya leveraged its limestone deposits to attract the cement industry. The people of Lumshnong and its nearby villages opine that if the company goes on expanding and increase its production daily, it will create more serious impact to the human habitation along with the environment and the people as well.
The villagers express apprehension and said that if the expansion of limestone mining continues for the sake of large scale production, they would be nowhere as gradually their lands would be under the grip of the company in near future.
Due to location of so many cement factories, a climate change and rise in temperature is being felt since last five years, villagers pointed out.
Travelling along the NH6 from Khliehriat towards Silchar one could see numerous cement factories some located closely to each other. Though the NH6 is in good shape, a great deal of inconveniences is faced by the people as during rainy season muddy water spills over the road making it difficult for those travelling on foot particularly school children.
Mr. M. Ladong the headman of Lumshnong, who held the banner of protest, said that the villagers along with the Dorbar Shnong wanted to discuss properly among them (officials and company) about the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the proposed limestone mining project of the cement company.
“The public hearing should not be held inside the premises of Star Cement. Lanong stressed that with the large scale production from 9 metric to 25 metric tons annually, it will jeopardize the surrounding environment. The Company should make it clear on what grounds; they want to increase the production scale from 9 to 20 tons in a day? ”, aggrieved Ladong asked. Lumshnong Secretary H. War too echoed Ladong with similar apprehension.
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