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Community friction for cement plants

Shillong, Dec. 3: The invasion of cement plants into the mineral-rich region of Jaintia Hills has apparently given rise to friction among communities who happen to be sitting on a vast pool of natural wealth.

The case of Umlong village, comprising around 80 households, under Rymbai elaka of East Jaintia Hills district, is a befitting example in this regard.

Since 2009, the Umlong dorbar shnong (village council) entered into an agreement with a cement company, but the villagers have alleged that this was inked without their consent.

The September 2, 2009, agreement with Nilanchaal Cement Pvt Ltd and the village headman, its secretary and a witness, was brought to the fore by Rinaroi Bareh from Umlong.

The agreement was made available to Bareh only last month.

Speaking to reporters here, Bareh said the headman Pilot Dhar and secretary Brightstarwel Pamblang inked the agreement “blindly for selfish motives”.

She also said the witness to the agreement, Kyrshanbor Sympli, was not a resident of Umlong.

“They have allowed the company to even buy our community land and the vast forest cover, which was left to us by our forefathers,” Bareh alleged.

“According to the agreement, the plant was to be set up 10km away from the residential area. However, in reality, the plant is not more than 2km away from the first house in the village,” she added.

“When the public hearing on the setting up of the cement plant was held last month, many families had wanted to protest. However, they were forced to (voice their) support out of fear. The company even used money power during the public hearing,” she said.

During the hearing, out of 61 speakers, only seven, including pressure groups, did not welcome the idea of allowing the company to set up its plant, Bareh said.

Delison Thasoh, one of the founding members of the Umlong village council, said since 1974, the forest area belonged to the community.

According to the agreement, “If the company so desires, the dorbar shnong will provide village land (common land owned by the village community) bearing limestone mines for the said company for mining and other uses, on a 99-year-long lease on an yearly lease rent basis.”

It also says, “The dorbar shnong has agreed to grant the company with the no-objection certificate (NOC) for the setting of cement and building material factory for plots of land in Umlong village being purchased by the company. However, the NOC will be given on condition that the company fulfils and abides by the terms and conditions set by the village council.”

The company proposes to set up a factory in Umlong in a 250-acre area that will produce 1 million tonnes of cement per annum.

The project will also include a 30MW captive power plant.

Although a slew of welfare measures have been listed in the agreement, which will be taken up by the company, Bareh said the village does not require any of those when the state government has already been introducing development programmes.

“We have seen other villages where cement plants have come up. They are not receiving any help, although similar agreements listing welfare programmes were signed. These measures are only to fool people,” Bareh said, adding that the agreement should be struck down.