Meghalaya uranium mining plan divides landowners from other locals

September 24th, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Shillong, Sep 24 (IANS) There is still no consensus among locals in Meghalaya on a government plan to allow uranium mining, with student unions, rights bodies and environmental organisations opposing the move. While landowners in the proposed mining area have welcomed the project, pressure groups like the influential Khasi Students Union (KSU) and some rights groups are vehemently opposed to the move, saying emission of radioactive uranium would pose serious health hazards.

“No degree of prosperity could justify mining and accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances. The move poses an incalculable danger to the locals,” John F. Kharshiing, chairperson of the Federation of Khasi states, a powerful tribal assemblage, told IANS.

The opposition comes at a time when Principal Adviser of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) V.P. Raja held several rounds of talks with landowners, the KSU, and other tribal councils and rights groups here.

According to surveys by the DAE, there could be up to 375,000 tonnes of uranium in Meghalaya’s Domiasiat area - by far the largest and richest sandstone-type deposits available in the country. It is spread over a mountainous terrain in deposits varying from eight to 47 metres below the surface in and around Domiasiat, 135 km from the state capital here.

Landowners of the area would like the mining to start.

“We want job security for our youths and environmental safeguards and if that happens we are ready to allow mining in our area,” said R. Myrthong, president of the landowners association.

After initial operations, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) was forced to wind up mining in the mid 1990s following violent opposition from villagers and other pressure groups in the state.

Uranium is an important mineral ore for making nuclear weapons, with experts saying the untapped reserve at Domiasiat could be a potential resource for India’s nuclear research programme.

The mining project, which was estimated at Rs.3 billion ($65.5 million) in 1992 and is now revised to Rs.8.14 billion, is being opposed by the Hills State People’s Democratic Party and the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement, both regional political parties.

Joining the bandwagon of protests are the KSU, the Meghalaya People’s Human Rights Council and the Langrin Youth Welfare Association.

“We want an independent team of experts to conduct a study and submit a report and say whether uranium mining is safe or not,” Emlang Lyttan, leader of the Federation of Khasi Janitia and Garo People, a powerful tribal council, said.

The state government is once again trying to revive the project through a public hearing to drum up local support. “There are lots of wrong notions and rumours spread by vested interests saying uranium mining would pose serious health risks. But studies conducted by experts do not indicate any such worries,” a senior official of the Pollution Control Board said.

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