The Telegraph
Friday , July 25 , 2014
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NGT hearing next month

- Activists and villagers pin hopes on green tribunal

Shillong, July 24: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) will conduct a hearing on the threat to life arising out of coal mining in South Garo Hills here on August 1 and 2 while another bench will deal with air and water pollution on August 26.

The NGT’s existence was relatively unknown to most in Meghalaya before April 17, 2014 but it has since almost become a household name.

From the state capital to the backwaters, the April 17 order of the NGT banning “rat-hole” coal mining in Meghalaya has rattled the government and those dependant on the “black diamond”.

Again, on July 21, Meghalaya came under the NGT scanner for air and water pollution as reported by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) in 2012.

The CAG report for the year ended March 31, 2011, clearly mentioned that the ambient air quality of the city in particular and the state in general was far from satisfactory mainly because of emission of air pollutants from automobiles.

Apart from the unsatisfactory air quality, the report stated that water was found to be “unfit for drinking” in 28 out of 31 water bodies in six districts of the state.

Recently, a social activist from Jaintia hills, H.H. Mohrmen, visited Kharkhana village on the downstream of the Myntdu river along the India-Bangladesh border to meet residents who were affected by water pollution allegedly caused by coal mining.

According to Mohrmen, village headman Pyrman Shylla was forthright when asked what message he would convey to Prime Minister Narendra Modi if given a chance.

“I will tell him to give us back our river — clean it and restore it to its pristine glory,” Pyrman said.

Three decades ago, the residents had a peaceful coexistence with the Myntdu, which they refer as “Mu Chyrkianga” or great grandmother. The “great grandmother” could feed them and assure them of additional income.

“When we fished, there was no time to weigh the catches. But now that is only a story we tell our children,” Kip Amtra, the former headman of the village, said.

However, times have changed. The villagers, according to Pyrman, can no longer use the river anymore “for either bathing or washing clothes”.

“Wherever the water flows, everything that lies in its course turns brownish in colour — from rocks to pebbles and sand to plants. Plants, which came in contact with the polluted water, perished after a while,” Pyrman said.

Deibormi Bare, a schoolteacher said, “The evidence is visible to the naked eye. If you grab a fistful of sand from the bank of the river, you will see coal pieces or particles mixed with sand.”

According to the village elders, Mohrmen said, the pollution started in 1984 when water, laced with poison, killed thousands of fishes along the entire stretch of the river. The stench was unbearable as hundreds of dead fish floated for days, Mohrmen said, quoting the village elders. But when the skies opened and rain inundated the river, the stench was carried away to neighbouring Bangladesh.

“This pollution was the beginning of pain and agony for us. Now we have a huge river, but it is of no use to us,” Pyrman said. The lifeline has perished.

According to Mohrmen, people who live in the 10 other villages downstream of the Myntdu — Borkhat, Natbor, Kwator, Dem Lakang, Pdeng Wah Khynriam, Pasadwar, Lumpyngngad, Kamsing, Jalia Khala and Sangkhat — met with this same tragedy.

“If they were all asked to name one wish, they would all say in unanimity — reclaim our river and give it back to us,” the social activist said.

“The downstream people also want people to know that for them, it is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of life and death as they have nowhere else to live and they depend on the river for everything. Their prayer is for a clean river, alive with fishes and other living things, and the NGT is only a step towards answering this prayer,” Mohrmen said.