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Mixed response to 24-hour shutdown

- Shops, banks, colleges closed in response to HNLC protest against NGT ban on mining
Two government buses wait for passengers in Shillong on Wednesday during the 24-hour bandh. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, June 11: The 24-hour bandh called by the proscribed Hynńiewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) in protest against the ban on rat-hole mining paralysed normal life in Khasi-Jaintia hills today as legislators spoke on the impact of the embargo in the Assembly.

The state capital witnessed almost total shutdown with business establishments, including shops, banks and educational institutions remaining closed. However, in some districts, banks and colleges were open. Roads got temporary relief from traffic congestion as only a few vehicles, including government-run buses and taxis plied. Despite the government’s stricture to employees for defying the bandh, attendance in government offices was reported to be low. But the strike did not deter legislators from attending the fourth day of the reassembled budget session.

Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) legislator Titosstarwell Chyne spoke about the negative impact of the interim ban on coal mining.

“We do not know for how long the ban will continue,” Chyne, who represents Sohra constituency, said as he referred to mining taken up by the people in Sohra, which he claimed did not have any negative impact on the ecology.

Chyne said such small mines were present during the British era and it has been one of the main occupations of people in and around picturesque Sohra since large tracts of land are unfit for agriculture.

He urged the government to come up with some projects linked to livelihood and if possible, earmark a special package under the Meghalaya Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Promotion programme.

Independent legislator Hopeful Bamon from Sutnga-Saipung constituency in Jaintia hills said the ripple effect of the ban would be felt not only on the people who depend on the coal trade but also affect the government’s revenue.

Bamon said people working in coalmines have been rendered jobless and urged the government to come up with appropriate measures.

“I urge the mining and geology and allied departments to come up with appropriate measures to redress the grievances of the people and initiate necessary intervention at the earliest for the affected people,” he said.

The shutdown, from 6pm yesterday to 6 this evening, which excluded the five Garo hills districts, affected life in the six districts of Khasi-Jaintia hills including the four coal-rich districts — West and South West Khasi Hills, East Jaintia Hills and West Jaintia Hills.

“The overall attendance in government offices was good,” an official in the personnel department said.

East Khasi Hills, the district which houses the directorates and main government departments, recorded an overall attendance of around 70 per cent while East Jaintia Hills recorded the lowest att-endance of around 50 per cent.

However, in West Jaintia Hills, the attendance of employees was around 80 per cent, 61 per cent in West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi districts, while South West Khasi Hills recorded around 79 per cent attendance.

“The situation was peaceful and no untoward incident reported during the shutdown,” a police officer said.

In the Assembly today, in his reply to the budget discussion, chief minister Mukul Sangma said the government is structuring appropriate measures in line with the NGT ruling.

Referring to the Mines and Minerals Policy, 2012, he said there were various measures which are required to be taken up to address the concerns of the environment.

He also stressed the need to improve the coordination and cooperation with the mining community.

The chief minister said the government would invest funds to reclaim abandoned mines and turn them into habitable and farm-friendly areas.

“There are numerous mines which have been abandoned and most of these are neither fit for habitation nor farming activities. Therefore, we plan to invest in order to reclaim these lands and covert them into habitable and farm-friendly areas,” he said.


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