| Limestone debris at the entrance of one of the caves. A Telegraph picture
Shillong, Feb. 5: Environmentalists and cave explorers have demanded an independent probe involving experts into the establishment of cement factories atop the country's longest cave network in Meghalaya. They welcomed the D.D. Lapang government's order for a probe, but did not want any government agency to conduct the inquiry.
A spokesman for the speleologists and environmentalists expressed the fear that the inquiry by a government body would be 'a one-sided affair and an eyewash to mislead the people of Meghalaya'.
Meghalaya chief minister D.D. Lapang has assigned the probe to the Indian Bureau of Mines, Nagpur. Its brief is to conduct an 'impartial inquiry' and submit 'a specific report' to ascertain whether the two cement plants that have come up in Lumshnong in Meghalaya's Jaintia Hills district are endangering Krem Kotsati, the country's longest cave chain.
The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government has issued directives to the two companies.
It has asked the Meghalaya Cements Ltd (MCL) and Cement Manufacturing Company Ltd (CMCL) to stop 'blasting operations' for quarrying limestone till the IBM submits its inquiry report.
The IBM, a multidisciplinary government organisation under the Union ministry of coal and mines, can approve mine closure plans if it perceives any threat to the ecology of an area where a mine is located.
However, environmentalists have questioned the government decision. 'What is the use of an inquiry by the IBM' After all, it is itself a government organisation and a mining agency,' said spelunker and Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award winner Brian Dermot Kharpran Daly.
Daly and other environmentalists said the 21.56-km-long Kotsati cave and a network of other caves in the area would cease to exist once the cement factories start production.
Though Daly expressed his happiness over the government's decision, he reiterated the demand for an investigation by an 'independent agency' involving speleologists and other experts.
Daly also rubbished claims by CMCL regarding its total investment. CMCL has claimed that the actual cost of the plant was not Rs 230 crore, as had been projected.
'This clearly shows that there is an attempt to undervalue the projects when official reports clearly indicate that the company has a projected investment of Rs 230 crore,' Daly argued.
Daly and members of the Meghalaya Adventure Association, who have been spearheading a campaign to save the caves, are reported to have met members of a parliamentary standing committee on tourism led by MP Nilotpal Basu.
Sources said the parliamentary committee shared the environmentalists' concern and asked them to submit a memorandum to Delhi within 10 days.