Garo hills spared of uranium exploration

Atomic energy department wanted to drill inside national park  

By Sugandh Juneja
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageThe standing committee of the National Board on Wildlife (nbw) has rejected a proposal for uranium exploration in the Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya. The Department of Atomic Energy (dae) wanted an eight sq km area of the park in South Garo hills de-notified for exploratory drilling. The park spread over 200 sq km is home to elephants, tigers and the rare hoollock gibbons.

The nbw rejected the proposal on May 14 in view of protests by people in the region and civil society groups. The standing committee also considered the report of one of its members, Asad Rahmani. The dae wanted to carry out drilling right in the middle of the park which would have required road construction, said Rahmani. “This would not have been possible without disturbing the ecology of the area,” he said while recommending a ban on mining activities and road construction within the national park. He also suggested strict regulation of coal mining activity in the region. He said coal mined without requite permissions is transported to Bangladesh. Ginseng Sangma of the Garo Hills Anti-Mining Forum said the wildlife board should stop mining coal in the region.

Environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta said apart from ecological issues, the location is not appropriate for uranium mining because it is too close to the border and may pose a security risk.

The dae said it may submit fresh proposal for uranium exploration. “Uranium is present at the site and it would be unfortunate if it is not converted to energy. We do take care of the environment when we carry out drilling,” said S K Malhotra, dae spokesperson.

Mining in the region may also affect the Siju bird sanctuary next to the national park and the Simsang river that flows alongside. “In an area with such sensitive and rich ecology mining is an evil. We will oppose it even if fresh proposal is submitted,” said Kamal Medhi of the non-profit Samrakshan Trust.

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