by- Isheeta Sharma *
On June 22, the Public Works Department (PWD) cut down ancient Pine trees on the 7th Mile Upper Shillong stretch of the National Highway. These trees have been in existence since the colonial period. However, many of them were cut down for the expansion project Shillong-Dawki-Tamabil highway. The project has been a concern since 2015 when objections were raised against it with regards its environmental impact on the region. However, in 2017 when Kiren Rijiju laid the foundation stone for the Land Customs Station (LCS) it meant that the project was now underway funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
Many voices of outrage rose against the axing of the trees and the process was quickly brought to a halt after Meghalaya’s CM Conrad Sarma expressed his concern as well. Tweeting about the issue, Sarma wrote “These images are indeed disturbing I have asked NHIDCL to stop it immediately till we can find a better solution. We need to balance between development and environment.”
Citizens of Twitter were, however, quick to point out that this isn’t the first tussle between development and environment that the state is facing. Many questioned how the state government was unaware of such a catastrophic decision.
Illegal coal mining operations are taking a major toll on the state’s environment as well as the life of the miners. In the Krem Ule mines of East Jaintia recently many lives were lost in mining accidents. Some limestone mining projects have received approval and have been assigned to private companies. This has also raised alarm as many of these projects are located near wildlife sanctuaries and can have significant impact on the wildlife as well as the environment.
Another important rallying issue has been the recent dam proposal on Umngot river in Meghalaya. The Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL) has proposed to make a 210 mw hydroelectric dam on Umngot river which has become a major cause of concern among the residents of East Khasi Hills and West Jaintia Hills. Farmers from six villages – Umsawwar, Pashang, Mynsang, Mawsir, Mawdulop and Ksanrangi village in East Khasi Hills have come together to register their protest against the use of their agricultural land for the development project, claiming that their land will be submerged if the construction of the dam is allowed. This will further impact the ecology of the region and the smaller springs that depend on the river. It also seems that this will negatively affect tourism in the area and in turn, negatively impact the livelihoods of the local communities which depend on tourism.
Although a report by Meghalaya Energy Corporation says the reason for the construction of the dam is to create hydroelectric power, it does not delineate how the local displaced communities will be rehabilitated. It also does not specify the positive impact of the construction of the dam in a way where the pros actually are more than the cons.
Despite over two month of protests, the resistance of the local communities stays largely out of the mainstream media narrative. To counter developmental projects that negatively impact the environment is an important task that should lie with us collectively as citizens of India rather than only on those directly impacted by these issues. Additionally the state needs to keep the concept of sustainable development as its priority when working on development projects in any part of the country.
Isheeta is a features writer and a student of Gender Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She enjoys dissecting popular culture through a gendered lens, adding new books to her overflowing book rack and sipping coffee in quiet corners. She is currently an Intern at Kractivist.org.