Weathering the political storm over his controversial remarks, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh was back in action today as he rejected a proposal from the Department of Atomic Energy for exploratory drilling for uranium in the South Garo Hills of Meghalaya.
Chairing the 19th standing committee meeting of the National Board on Wildlife, Ramesh acknowledged that the country needed to augment domestic uranium supplies. However, due to the rampant illegal mining in the region which had hurt the sentiments of the local population, the committee decided not to allow any further exploitation of the region for its rich natural resources.
The committee also discussed a report prepared by one of its members, Asad Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society, on illegal private coal mines around the Balphakram National Park, where mining activity is maximum.
The report, which gives a detailed account of the rampant illegal mining in the area has urged the central government to take up the issue with the state government. “Such mining has severe implications for the social fabric of the state, health of its people, immigration, apart from environmental damage,” it says.
Mining has to be stopped at all the sites to prevent ecological damange to the landscape. It is a matter of great concern that the state seems to have lost all control over this region, says the report. “After visiting the area I found it gives the appearance of an untamed wild frontier where anyone can occupy the land and loot the natural resources,” says Rahmani.
The report describes that mining is done by untrained labour in a “rat-hole fashion”. “A hole is excavated on the hillside, sometimes up to 60 to 100 metres deep and coal is extracted manually and brought out as headload and dumped in the nearest open area, mostly roads,” it says.