Former Lok Sabha threatens agitation against uranium mining

April 23rd, 2010 - 12:25 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Shillong, April 22 (IANS) Former Lok Sabha speaker Purno A. Sangma Thursday threatened to launch an agitation against the central government’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling for uranium inside the Balpakram National Park in the South Garo hills of Meghalaya.
The 400-sq km BNP is a known habitat for the Asian elephant, tiger and other endangered animals such as, Hoolock Gibbon and Slow Loris, apart from being home to rare and endemic plants.

Sangma’s threat assume significance after the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) approved the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling of uranium in the ecologically fragile Rongcheng plateau of the Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya.

The NBWL is headed by Prime Minsister Manmohan Singh.

A NBWL member, Bibhab Talukdar, who has been assigned to lead a site inspection team to South Garo Hills to seek the views of people on the DAE’s proposed exploratory drilling of uranium, and submit a report to the standing committee, has decided not to visit the national park.

“I have informed the board that I will not be visiting the place following people’s protest against the government’s proposal,” Talukdar said.

The Garo National Liberation Army, a mitant group has warned the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden from going ahead with exploratory work for uranium mining in and around the national park.

Last year, the DAE has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills for exploration of uranium.

“Balpakram is sacrosanct for Garos. We believed after death our soul goes and rests in Balpakram,” Sangma told IANS.

Therefore, he said, the question of mining or diluting the sanctity of Balpakram by way of mining is not acceptable to Garos.

The Hindus too believe that Balpakram was the mythological hillock from where Hanuman plucked the life-giving herbs ‘the sanjeevani’ for wounded Lakshman.

On April 24, Sangma said political (Garo) leaders and NGO leaders will meet at Tura in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district to protest against the government’s decision to explore uranium inside Balpakram.

The influtential Garo Students’ Union Wednesday dashed off a memorandum to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh opposing the DAE’s proposal to conduct exploratory drilling of uranium inside Balpakram.

The drilling exercise, he said would affect the fragile biodiversity of Balpakram and would be tantamount to encroaching on the tribal rights.

“Survey in the recent years has identified possibility of economical uranium mining in the Rongcheng plateau of Balpakram,” a DAE official said.

He said the DAE wanted to start the exploration exercise to confirm the uranium deposits to meet the country’s nuclear energy requirement which will be to the tune of 20,000 MW by 2020.

State Chief Wildlife Warden Sunil Kumar earlier told IANS that the proposed drilling exercise will have no adverse affect on the park.

“Since the drilling exercise is of temporary nature, which will be carried out as a day time activity, I don’t think it will disturb the landscape or ecology of the area,” Kumar said.

“Once the exercise is completed. The drilling areas will be restored to ensure that there is biotic interference in Balpakram,” he added.

The DAE has discovered about 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits in Meghalaya.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) plans to produce 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year and process 1,500 tonnes of the mineral a day.

It has also proposed to set up a Rs.1,046-crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district, which has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.

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