Tell us about the history of mining in Meghalaya.
It began with limestone mining long before the British Raj came to this subcontinent. You can still see houses made of bricks and lime in Bangladesh and Calcutta that dates back to that period.
When was coal introduced to the mining industry?
The British began to the exact coal in this region when they arrived from Cherrapunjee side till about 1969. Then moved their mining across the hills to Assam.
Is there an environmental impact of mining?
There is an environmental impact nationally. Mining waste especially coal mining waste is highly toxic. During the monsoon this toxic waste gets washed up and ends up in the river.
In addition, the mining needs large parts of the land to be deforested which is definitely a loss of biodiversity as well as a loss of top soil as it gets washed away with the monsoon rain.
Is the mining in Meghalaya including coal, limestone and other mineral resources currently controlled by the government or by the people themselves?
The big issue is, the land belongs to the community. The government has no land. That’s why the individuals are mining their land rich with mineral resources.
That means all the mining is controlled by locals and the government has no control over it?
Something like that. The government does have control to some extent but it’s limited. Now with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), they have regulated the entire industry. And most probably this means mining will reduce in the area.
Three districts—East Khashi Hills, West Khasi Hills and Garo Hills have autonomous bodies. Can the NGT issued rule govern over them to stop mining?
In some sense they are autonomous district offices but the NGT has been governing over their activites in recent years.
If the mining is mostly controlled by the locals, then how does the government plan to mine uranium here?
There is huge opposition about the government’s plans to mine uranium here. If the government really wants to extract uranium then they would have to buy the land from the people first. But as far as I know, this programme is still at a conceptual stage. Back in the 90s the government had identified certain uranium rich areas and wanted to mine them.
The mining in Meghalaya causes dregs mostly sand, coal and stone chips to wash downstream into Bangladesh that ends up covering large areas of agricultural lands. Do you think there is a way to stop this process?
I believe human activity does have an adverse effect on nature which needs to be contained as much as possible. There needs to be a way to stop this down stream sedimentation of mining dregs that the government of both India and Bangladesh need to find a mutual solution to.
There was some recent reports by the Megahlayan media that a large number of fishes have been dying caused by the mining in the region. Similar kinds of things were reported in a Bangladeshi media recently as well, claiming a large number of fishes died in the Haor region because of radiation from uranium mining in India. What do you make of this claim?
In the case of the fish dying in Meghalaya, I am not convinced it was caused by mining. In regards to uranium radiation, how is this going to kill fish if there is no uranium mines here in the first place?
If uranium mining starts in Meghalaya in the future, do you not think this will impact Bangladesh downstream?
Uranium mining will be a problem not only for Bangladesh but also for Megahalaya itself. It all depends on how the extraction is manage, mined and preserved. We have been asking the government exactly this as most people are extremely concerned about this.
The government should use cutting edge technology that will not negatively impact the water, fishes, trees and land -as all of them are interrelated.