Cavers Join Meghalaya Villagers against Lafarge Cement Plant

By Rahul Karmakar

meghalaya-caveGuwahati, Nov 16 : An organization of cavers has joined villagers in opposing French cement giant Lafarge’s plan to set up a Rs 1,000 crore plant in limestone-rich Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya. In a letter to environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday, the National Cave Research and Protection Organization

has sought outright rejection of Lafarge’s proposal. This, it argued, is not only because the proposed plant site is perilously close to two reserve forests – Narpuh and Saipung – set to become wildlife sanctuaries.

Some 500 hectares of land in Nongkhlieh village has been transferred to Lafarge India for the plant. Villagers are protesting this transfer, which they say was done “undemocratically and forcefully” by the Dolloi or local chieftain.

“The area already has eight cement plants within a 5 km radius. Obviously, the norms must have been flouted in setting up of these plants,” said the save-cave organization’s Raipur-based president Jayant Biswas. One more would add to air pollution and contamination of the groundwater system in the area, he feared.

But more importantly for the organization, Lafarge’s proposed site comes under one of the world’s most sensitive cave systems. “The Jaintia Hills system is considered the Mecca of cavers the world over. Some are listed among the longest and deepest caves on earth. We have already seen how over-extraction of limestone for a cement plant has led to the caving-in of the Mawmluh cave system (also in Meghalaya, near Cherrapunjee),” Biswas said in an email to HT.

Prior to the caving body’s plea to Ramesh, Nongkhlieh villagers had petitioned to Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma to cancel Lafarge’s application. “The land on which the plant is to come up is community land that includes besides forest paddy fields. Our land is as important as the air we breathe, and we will cease to exist without it,” the villagers’ petition read.

They also sniffed an underhand deal between Lafarge and the village chieftain and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council to “evict us from our ancestral land”.

Lafarge has refuted the charges, stating some locals were “killing the child (proposed plant) before it was born”.


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