Shillong, Apr 21 : The death of a large number of fish in West Khasi Hills district since 5 April has caused more than a ripple in the state.
The Mukul Sangma-led Meghalaya government says preliminary investigations suggest that the death of fish in Ranikor river is due to ‘use of toxic substances by locals’ in coal mining.
The delay in solving the mystery has pitched the powerful Khasi Students Union (KSU) against the government. “We have collected samples of dead fish as well as river water from different locations and we will send it to an independent body,” says Daniel Khyriem, ksu President.
“There is a high chance the deaths are due to uranium radiation.” KSU alleges that a similar incident was reported in the 1990s during exploratory drilling of uranium in the West Khasi Hills. Deputy Chief Minister Bindo Lanong denies the charge.
“If uranium radiation had caused the deaths, all other aquatic animals should have been affected and there should have been lesions on the fish,” he says. “This was not the case.”
Meghalaya has huge reservoirs of coal and uranium, lending credence to both theories, especially among Khasi tribals.
The state government has now asked scientists from the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board to test the waters of Kynshi and Rilang rivers to ascertain the cause of contamination.
This eerie development comes at a time when Sangma is lauding his government’s initiative to increase fish production, The Meghalaya government had also recently launched an ambitious state aquaculture mission.
The worst affected rivers are the Ranikor, the Kynshi and Rilang.
There have been reports of radiation from uranium ore exploration in Porkut, Borosa in the district. Sources in the government do not rule out this.
We have collected samples of dead fish as well as river water from different locations. There is a high chance the deaths are due to uranium radiation”
Annually, Meghalaya imports around 15,000 metric tonne of fish. Finding the dead fish easily accessible, villagers initially carted them home to eat.
“But after they received reports that dead fish have been found in Kynshi and Rilang rivers, panic spread,” a local villager claimed. It is also said that several villagers of Ranikor area have been suffering from dysentery.
With reports reaching Shillong that the dead fish are being sold in nearby markets, the state government is about to issue an advisory not to consume the fish until the cause of death is ascertained, well-placed sources say.
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka. email@example.com