Showing posts with label Meghalaya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meghalaya. Show all posts
09 June 2014

National Green Tribunal to Review Ban on Coal Mining in Meghalaya

By Alok Pandey

National Green Tribunal to Review Ban on Coal Mining in MeghalayaCoal mining has been going on in Meghalaya since early 19th century

Shillong, Jun 9 :  The National Green Tribunal will hold a meeting in Shillong on Monday to review its order banning coal mining in Meghalaya.

Coal mining has been going on in Meghalaya since early 19th century, but, say estimates by the government, illegal mining has mushroomed across the state in the last two months. Most mines here are of the 'rat hole' variety -- small pits are dug in the ground and people crawl into these pits with next to no safety equipment.

The Tribunal had imposed a ban on mining as most such activities are illegal, dangerous and extremely polluting.

Locals have claimed that the ban will lead to the loss of two lakh jobs and have demanded that the government undertake rehabilitation measures for those who will be affected by the decision. According to latest figures by the Meghalaya government, the state produces nearly 58 lakh metric tonnes coal annually.

Most immigrants, who are employed in the numerous coal mines in the region, are now leaving for home.

Loud protests by coal miners in the region have prompted a rethink by the National Green Tribunal, which will meet on Monday in Shillong to review its order.

In the monsoons, many mines reportedly get flooded, resulting in a large number of casualties.

In 2012, 15 miners drowned in one such incident while in December 2013, five miners lost their lives when the cable attached to the coal bucket they were riding in -- towards the bottom of the mine -- snapped. Because the employees in these mines are immigrants, there are usually no records of deaths or injuries.

As many as 200 miners died in Meghalaya's coal mines in 2012, according to reports by the local media.

The Tribunal ban order also points out that coal mining in Meghalaya has led to immense air, water and soil pollution; the damage caused so far is irreparable

The locals are not convinced by these arguments and have demanded that the Tribunal should provide alternate employment if mining is banned.

In its meeting on Monday, while reviewing the ban, the NGT will have to weigh the environmental hazards and safety issues posed by illegal mining against the loss of employment to lakhs of people.
06 June 2014

FIR Doesn’t Mention Rape, Police Reached After Two Hours

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap
Jospin’s husband and her four children at her burial site at Duragre  village in Meghalaya Thursday. DASARATH DEKA
Jospin’s husband and her four children at her burial site at Duragre village in Meghalaya Thursday. (Source: Express photo by Dasarath Deka)

Summary

State Home Minister Roshan Warjri on Thursday assured ‘justice’ to members of the bereaved family.
Raja Rongat (Meghalaya), Jun 6 : Not a single policeman was spotted during daytime as one drove 51 km from Tura in western Meghalaya to this hamlet 10 km short of Chokpot police station.

Thus, when Jospin M Sangma, 30, was shot on her head from point blank range on Tuesday 6 pm, the police arrived at the scene at  around 8.30 pm.

While the police had said in Shillong on Wednesday that the woman was killed when she resisted an attempt to molestation and rape, the FIR in Chokpot police station has no such mention.

An oral information given by Ganjak M Sangma, mother of the deceased, on the basis of which the FIR was recorded in English, said that two Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants with AK-47 rifles blamed Jospin to be a “police collaborator”, made her sit down on a chair outside her tea shop and shot her in her head.

According to agency report, the GNLA in a statement  denied that the woman was molested or raped and said that she was ‘executed’ for being a ‘police informer’.

“I saw two men, both wearing camouflage shorts and black T-shirts. They came and asked my wife whether she was Tanisha’s mother. When she said, ‘yes’, they said, ‘you are a police informer’. She denied, but one of them said, ‘what should we do? Kill you, or spare you?’.

The next moment a bullet blew off her head, and the two men disappeared into darkness,” said Abel A Sangma, 32, who along with his wife ran a small shop selling tea, puri and rice at Raja Rongat tri-juncture bus point.

“My wife was not a police informer. She has nothing to do with the police or militants. She was innocent. How will I bring up my four children without her?” asked Abel, holding his youngest child, four-year-old Menobarth, in his arms. While Tanisha, the eldest, is 11, Lima is seven and Rosemi is six.

Abel’s children refused to speak about the incident or their mother. They wept silently near her grave in a jungle about 500 m away from their home in village Duragre, four km from here. The family stayed in the tea shop instead of walking half-a-km downhill and another hand-a-km uphill from Duragre to reach the main road, as it’s closer to the missionary school which the children attended.

The children have since been shifted to their maternal grandmother’s house — Garos are matrilineal — in Duragre.

“We are yet to ascertain the motive behind killing of the woman,” said A T Sangma, additional SP of South Garo Hills district, who is camping at Chokpot police station to supervise investigations. “The woman was in no way a police informer,” he added.

State Home Minister Roshan Warjri on Thursday assured ‘justice’ to members of the bereaved family. An encounter was underway on Thursday between security forces and Garo militants who killed the woman.
05 June 2014

Fake PhD Degree Scam: Meghalaya HC Grants Bail To 'Accused'

Shillong, Jun 5 : The Meghalaya High Court on Wednesday granted bail to Chandra Mohan Jha who was arrested after his CMJ University was found selling fake PhD degrees to thousands of students all over the country.

"The court has granted bail to CM Jha today," DGP PJP Hanaman told a news agency.

While the hearing was going on in the court, the CID officials were busy raiding Jha's residence in the city from where they seized Rs 10,37,300 and USD 3,800.

During the search carried out under the supervision of the DIG H Marbaniang and SSP Claudia Lyngwa, police found several other incriminating evidences against Jha.

The search was made a day after a local court relieved Jha of the police attaching his property. Jha founded the first self-financed university, the CMJ University, in Meghalaya in 2009. The varsity has awarded a record number of 434 PhD degrees between 2012 and 2013 apart from registering 490 more PhD scholars in violation of the UGC norms.
26 May 2014

Wild Elephants Raid Villages For Food

Mirza Shakil, Tangail
A herd of elephants graze on the hills at Poragaon union of Nalitabari upazila of northern Sherpur. This and two other herds entered several villages looking for food. The photo was taken recently. Photo: Courtesy
A herd of elephants graze on the hills at Poragaon union of Nalitabari upazila of northern Sherpur. This and two other herds entered several villages looking for food. The photo was taken recently. Photo: Courtesy
It's a battle for survival.

Loss of habitats and food sources has forced at least three herds of around 60 to 70 wild elephants of Tangail's Garo hills to march to adjacent villages in search of food, triggering a conflict with villagers.

These mega-herbivores, that can consume a year's harvest in just a few days, are raiding the croplands and gardens of toiling people of around 60-kilometer area of Nalitabari, Jhenaigati and Sreebardi upazilas.

According to Sherpur district administration, a herd of about 15 to 20 wild elephants entered the Garo hills in Bangladesh from Meghalaya of India's Assam in 1997. They did not go back as the hills offered them abundant food and habitat.

However, things started being different as these Elphas maximuses bred and tripled their number over the past years while men continued to increase the encroachment on the wildlife habitats.

A highly intelligent species, the elephants are now returning what the humans did to them.

Almost every night, the crop-raiding giants come down the hills and choose croplands as an easy source for their nutrition. People of the areas, however, are certainly not glad about this.

"How can we survive if they (elephants) destroy all our crops?" said a farmer of Nakugaon village in Sherpur's Nalitabari. The elephants rampaged through at least 20 acres of rice fields in the village last week.

"We have stopped doing everything except guarding our farmlands from dusk to dawn," said Saheb Ali, a farmer of Tarani village of the same upazila.

Hundreds of farmers like him are spending sleepless nights with spears, torch and sticks to protect their only source of livelihood from these largest land mammals that too are badly in need of food.
Worse still, the villagers fear for their lives every day as more than 50 people were killed by the marauding elephants in the past 17 years, according to the district administration.

Both the number of the elephants and the people of the area have multiplied since 1994. An ever-increasing population is destroying the habitats and grazing zones of the elephants, forcing the giants to raid the villages, says local green activist Mannan Sohel.

The wild elephants cannot return to the forests of Meghalaya either as India has erected barbed fences on the border, say local foresters.

In a desperate bid to rid themselves of elephant attacks, locals want electricity connection to the villages immediately, as elephants fear light at night, Mokhlesur Rahman, chairman of Sherpur's Nalitabari upazila parishad, told The Daily Star.

Zakir Hossain, deputy commissioner (DC) of Sherpur, however, said the administration was working to find a way to ensure peaceful coexistence of the elephants and humans.

“The lives of the wild elephants are valuable but the lives of people are more valuable. Though it is tough to ensure a peaceful co-existence, measures are being taken to save both,” he said.
Different organisations, with the help of local administration, are conducting awareness programmes among the locals to keep them from harming the animals.

When asked about the demand of the environmentalists to create a sanctuary for the endangered species in the area, the DC said, “Where will I shift the people then?" -- a question that reveals a disturbing picture of the severely damaged equilibrium of nature; a question that has no easy answer.
22 May 2014

Bangladeshis who settled in north-east before 1971 are Indians, says HC


Shillong, May 22
: In a historic judgement, the Meghalaya High Court has said that Bangladesh nationals who have settled in this north eastern state before 24 March, 1971 should be treated as Indians and they be enrolled in voters'list.

The judgement was based on a petition by over 40 refugees from Bangladesh, who were denied enrollment in the electoral roll by the district administration citing their citizenship was doubtful.

These refugees hailing from Amjong village near the Assam-Meghalaya border in Meghalaya's Ri-Bhoi district moved the High Court after their citizenship certificates were seized by the deputy commissioner.

Justice SR Sen, in his 15 May order, directed the district Deputy Commissioner Pooja Pandey to return the seized certificates to the petitioners and enrol them in voters' list before the next elections.

Justice Sen said there was an understanding between the two countries as to who should be allowed to stay and who should be deported back to Bangladesh.

"It is clearly understood that the forefathers of the petitioners entered India much before 24 March, 1971. As such there is no question of deporting them at this stage when theyhave acquired the right of permanent rehabilitation in Amjong village," he said.

Ruling out that they are Bangladesh citizens, the court said there was no scope for their deportation and directed the state government and the Centre not to disturb them, but to give them proper rehabilitation.

The state government had earlier argued that the petitioners and their forefathers were not permanent citizens and were rehabilitated temporarily by the autonomous district council.
31 March 2014

Meghalaya takes to the skies to create poll awareness

Election commission ropes in famous singers and sportspersons

By Archisman Dinda

  • Image Credit: Archisman Dinda/Gulf News
  • The Election Commission has organised kite flying to encourage voters to cast their franchise.
Guwahati: The election department of Meghalaya is banking on music and kites — the two favourite pastimes of the people of the region — to create awareness among voters, especially first-time voters, to encourage them to exercise their franchise.
In the 2009 general elections, the state witnessed a low voter turnout of just 64 per cent which the department wants to change and is adopting various innovative ways, P. Naik, Chief Election Officer of Meghalaya, said.
“This time we are hoping that music and kites do the trick for us. We are also doing on door–to-door campaigns to ensure higher voter turnout,” said Naik.
With the slogans “Your Vote Counts”, “India needs you to vote” engraved on them, colourful kites of various shapes and designs swerved in the clouds as a large crowd gathered to take part in the competition at the Golf club in the scenic city of Shillong.
Kites fitted with lights were also spotted in the evening sky as part of the “1001 lights” programme to spread awareness among voters on the importance of exercising their franchise when the state goes to the polls on April 9 to elect its two representatives from Tura and Shillong parliamentary constituencies.
“Kite flying is very popular in the state. Hence we thought of using the medium to reach out to the people and encourage them to vote,” said Sanjay Goyal, the polling officer of the constituency. “We will organise many such programmes in the run-up to polling day so that people understand the value of their vote,” said Goyal. The state poll panel is hoping for a 20 per cent rise in voting.
The state poll panel has also roped in famous singers, bands and sports persons to spread awareness. Nationally famed choir group Shillong Chamber Choir, popular singer Headingson Ryntathiang, along with former world champion karate kid Linza F, Syiem, sensational boxer Torak Kharpran and local designer Tatania Momin are among those who are appealing to the people, especially the youth, to vote.
A music video by the choir titled “Just one”, which features the state’s artistes and sport stars, has already become an instant hit with the young voters of Meghalaya.
“We are indeed privileged to be a part of the campaign. It is our duty to vote and if we are able to encourage people in the state to vote, we will be performing the duty every Indian must do,” said Neil Nongkynrih, founder of the choir.
 
 
Meghalaya is a state in north-east India. The name means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit.
 
Capital: Shillong, a popular hill station, is known as the “Scotland of the East”
 
Area: 22,429 sq km
 
Chief Minister: Mukul Sangma (Indian National Congress)
 
Parliamentary constituencies: 2 - Shillong and Tura
 
The main political parties of the state are Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and National People’s Party (NPP).
 
Key political personalities: Mukul Sangma
 
Purno Sangma, Speaker of Lok Sabha from 1996 to 1998 and Chief Minister of Meghalaya from 1988 to 1990
 
19 March 2014

A Village Brings Down Its Hills as Lure of Mining Grows

Alldrina Nonglamin's mine is one of hundreds of brand new pits near Meghalaya's border with Bangladesh.Himanshu Khagta Alldrina Nonglamin’s mine is one of hundreds of brand new pits near Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh.

NONGTALANG, India — “Bomb, bomb, bomb!” shouted the miner, and his warning echoed off the walls of the decapitated hillock. Seconds later, an explosion sliced off yet another chunk of limestone, which crumbled into a pile somewhere near where the center of the hill used to be.
The mine’s owner, Alldrina Nonglamin, 40, barely noticed the explosion. On that morning in early January, she wore her bed slippers and a sarong tied over her shoulder as she surveyed the pile of rock that had once underlaid her orange and betel nut garden, her former source of income.
Proudly showing off the mounds of ammonium nitrate she uses as an explosive, she said, “I want to finish the hill quickly so I can level the land and build a big house. It might take 20 years, but maybe less also.”
Ms. Nonglamin is one of the many new mine owners in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya State who were surprised to find out that the pile of rocks they were living on might as well be made of cash. In the last few years, her village of Nongtalang, like so many other communities across this hilly northeastern state, has become home to an increasing number of family-owned limestone mines, whose owners are seeking wealth unheard of in a region accustomed to subsistence farming.
Hundreds of limestone mines now line the 60 kilometers, or 40 miles, of highway that lead through this region toward the border with Bangladesh.
Ms. Nonglamin took loans of more than $150,000 to purchase mining equipment after seeing the profits her neighbors were unearthing. In just one year, she has paid back more than half of the initial loan.
Alldrina Nonglamin, 40, a mine owner in Nongtalang in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.
Himanshu Khagta
Alldrina Nonglamin, 40, a mine owner in Nongtalang in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.
“My earnings are now 100 times better, and the loans are easily paid. My kids go to private school in the city. I’m a businesswoman with more than 100 employees, when before I was a farmer and sometimes a tailor,” she said.
With so many villagers rushing to mine the hills, small-scale miners are now extracting more rock per year all together than massive multinational corporations would in a smaller network of bigger mines, environmental activists say, and with little to none of the regulations those big companies are normally subjected to.
Just under 1,000 trucks of the low-grade rock are exported from the small mines to Bangladesh daily, where the world’s largest cement manufacturer, the French company Lafarge, buys most of it, processes it and churns out the fine cement powder that is ultimately transformed into the building blocks of that country’s infrastructural development.
Very few in this village of 2,000 resist the lure of mining in these hills, but those who do say runoff from the mines often goes straight into rivers that provide drinking water. Helpme Mohrmen, a local Unitarian minister who has organized poorly attended local protests and traveled to Delhi to speak to distant advocacy groups, refers to himself as “The Lone Ranger.”
Helpme H. Mohrmen, who refers to himself as the
Himanshu Khagta
Helpme H. Mohrmen, who refers to himself as the “Lone Ranger” in the fight against mining in the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya.
“Our people have always had a deep reverence for nature,” Mr. Mohrmen said. “We give our rivers personalities. We call the animals our brothers and sisters. Each plant carries some meaning. I cannot understand why we have gone about killing our rivers for this mining, but now no one will join me because they don’t want to fight against their clan members.”
Tribal society in this part of Meghalaya is structured around clans, which often form political blocs and share economic interests. Those who open mines often employ fellow clan members, or at least spread the wealth earned through mining in the form of lavish gifts and parties. Clans also traditionally have viewed land as communal among members.
“There is this idea that we, as tribals, have inherited our land and have the right to do as we want with it,” Mr. Mohrmen said. “But no one can own a river.”
Nongtalang is Mr. Mohrmen’s home village, but he can count his allies there on one hand. One is Brightstar Pohsnem, 26, an elementary school teacher and the president of the one-year-old Nongtalang People’s Unity Movement, which has about a dozen members. They contend that the village can survive on farming alone and that the mines are not sustainable.
“In this village, we get our water straight from the river,” Mr. Pohsnem said. “As soon as the mining started, the water became undrinkable. Now they say they have stopped mining near the river, but they have buried the headwaters of the streams already. Maybe with the money they make from mining, they can buy clean water, but that is not a solution.”
Workers in the mine can earn as much as 3,000 rupees a day, or $50, all year round. That is on par with what they could earn on a market day selling oranges or betel nuts if they are lucky, but markets are held only once a week and only during the harvest period.
Mr. Pohsnem said villagers constantly lobbied him to recognize the value of mining. “People offer to buy me coffees, clothes or to go on picnics with their mining money,” he said. “But I know that is just how they became interested in mining, because of all those things you can get with money. They are not thinking properly about what they are doing.”
Yet the immediate benefits of the newfound wealth abound. Dolly Khonglah, a mine owner who also heads the Meghalaya International Exporters Chamber of Commerce, was able to fly her son to an upscale, private hospital owned by the Apollo Hospitals group in New Delhi, where he underwent a liver transplant.
“We have been interior-type people, so we are happy to see changes,” she said during an interview at the hospital.
“The limestone is a blessing of the land. Ten years ago, we couldn’t even go to Shillong,” she said, referring to Meghalaya’s capital. “Now we can come to Apollo.”
As the new prosperity brings advantages like access to better health care and a higher standard of living, even Mr. Pohsnem’s closest kin have questioned his stance. “My best friends from school and my neighbors have stopped talking to me,” he said. “They don’t understand why I am against mining.”
Looking at the floor in his small home, Mr. Pohsnem said that his feelings about mining boiled down to a fundamental difference in how he saw the future of his village. He does not imagine that the wealth, or the rock itself, is sustainable.
“We used to have deer and bears around here, but even the squirrels ran away after the mining. If they cannot drink the water, then how can we?” he asked. “It’s no use fighting — better that we buy a place elsewhere where there’s no mining.”
He laughed, mostly to himself. “The sad thing is that the mine owners are the only ones who have the money to do that.”
Both Ms. Khonglah and Ms. Nonglamin dream of passing on their mines to their children, but when Ms. Nonglamin was reminded that she had earlier said there might be only 20 more years of rock left, she said, “I cannot imagine that day. I haven’t thought about it.”
Ms. Khonglah admitted, “It is true. The rock may not last.”
Max Bearak is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @maxbearak.
11 March 2014

Shillong most favoured tourist destination in the north-east



Shillong, Mar 11 :
Meghalaya, known as the Scotland of the east, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the northeast. And Shillong, the state capital, attracts a large number of visitors.
If you believe there’s no nightlife in the northeast! Think again! Shillong comes alive in the late evening with the opening of roadside eateries, discos, theaters and shopping malls.

“Earlier there were few hotels, clubs and restaurants because people were scared to do business, but things have changed now. Shops and hotels are open till late night,” said Siddarth Das, a hotel official. “The situation is very good in Shillong. One can find activities going on till late in the night. Shops, hotels, and restaurants are open till late night, and there is 24 hours taxi or cab available in the city,” said Bishnu, a petrol pump manager.

With the increase of tourists in the city, new hotels and business establishments have set up shops. There are seventeen recognized tourist spots in the city and the state government is planning to open a few more. “Some years back people were scared of going out in the night, so we did not find any tourist or local coming out after 5-6 pm, but now the situation is quite different, people can roam around peacefully and they can get taxis anywhere, even at late night,” added Roshan Lyngdoh, a cab driver.

Meghalaya is a state of great scenic and natural beauty. Undulating rivers, waterfalls, sparkling mountain ranges and streams all add up to the charm of the place. Favourable climate and natural scenic beauty preserved in its pristine state attracts visitors from all over the world.

Shillong also boasts of fascinating waterfalls in and around the city, a beautiful lake with boating facilities, over a dozen scenic picnic spots including a sprawling golf course.
10 March 2014

‘Cleanest Village’ Questions Its Blessings Amid Influx of Visitors

Children in Mawlynnong working to clean the village, where a reputation for tidiness has been both a blessing and a curse.
Children in Mawlynnong working to clean the village, where a reputation for tidiness has been both a blessing and a curse.
MAWLYNNONG, India — Anshuman Sen was barely a year out of college when, in 2005, he traveled to Meghalaya, a hilly northeastern state distant both in miles and cultural resemblance from what the locals call “mainland India.”
Mr. Sen was shooting pictures of the state’s bountiful natural wonders for Discover India, a travel magazine, when an acquaintance suggested visiting Mawlynnong, a remote village in the jungle along the border with Bangladesh that had acquired minor local renown for its fastidious cleanliness and a nearby bridge made entirely of living tree roots.
“I was only there for four or five hours,” said Mr. Sen, “but I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, and neither could anyone at the magazine.” He had to write about it, even if he hadn’t spent a full day there.
Before Mr. Sen went home, a contact at the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum told him that Mawlynnong was the “cleanest village in Asia,” and the impromptu — and improbable — slogan became the catchphrase of Mr. Sen’s article, published in 2005. Soon after, the BBC program “Human Planet” did a segment on the village and referenced Mr. Sen’s slogan.
Since Mr. Sen’s visit, Mawlynnong’s 90-odd families have witnessed irreversible changes as the village tries to maintain its appeal as an ecotourism destination without turning into a congested picnic spot. During the winter holiday season, hundreds of visitors arrive every day. Some are picnickers from nearby towns, while others travel from New Delhi, Kolkata and abroad.
The state of Meghalaya is no stranger to superlative-based tourism. A few ridges and valleys to the west of Mawlynnong is Cherrapunjee, famous as the “wettest place on Earth,” despite other places being demonstrably rainier.
The residents of Mawlynnong had two major advantages over Cherrapunjee. First, having developed later, Mawlynnong has paid attention to what went wrong at Cherrapunjee, where outside developers have set up huge resorts and tourism revenue goes to tour companies and a few favored restaurants and shops. Second, Mawlynnong’s claim to fame is within the residents’ control, not dependent on the weather.
Keeping those advantages in mind, Deepak Laloo, vice president of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum, devised a plan that would both highlight and preserve the village’s seductive authenticity.
Mr. Laloo said he had encouraged locals to use traditional materials like bamboo, not concrete, for new buildings and had suggested that the number of lodges be kept to a minimum. He and early local entrepreneurs like Rishot Khongthohrem pushed a homestay lodging model, where tourists stay with local families instead of in hotels, thereby contributing exclusively to the village economy.
Mr. Khongthohrem, a schoolteacher and owner of one of Mawlynnong’s half-dozen homestay lodges, said the village council collects a fee from each bus and car that enters the village and uses that money to pay six women whose full-time job is pick up the litter.
“What keeps this village clean is habit,” Mr. Khongthohrem said. “We also have to keep that habit for our visitors who don’t have it yet.”
Residents of Mawlynnong village in Meghalaya, India, taking a walk in the village.
Residents of Mawlynnong village in Meghalaya, India, taking a walk in the village.
Many residents said that cleanliness was a deeply ingrained practice long before the “cleanest village” slogan was bestowed. Decades ago, all domestic animals were removed from the village; residents rely on farming that can be done without beasts of burden.
The simple act of placing garbage in a garbage can is considered unusual in India, where people often toss their trash wherever it is convenient — out of a car, on the street. But in Mawlynnong, even those who chew betel nuts swallow the nuts’ pungent juice instead of spitting it onto the ground.
The community council has also taken measures to preserve the village’s largely agrarian way of life so that no one is dependent on the ebbs and flows of tourism.
For instance, villagers cannot engage in tourism-related business until they are 18, by which time they’ve been taught traditional farming methods in the surrounding forests. Most of those who have involved themselves with tourism in some way see it as supplementary income.
But on a recent visit during the peak winter tourist season, all was not right in paradise. At 11 a.m. on a Sunday, a bus blaring dance music arrived with a troop of tipsy teenagers. Even though Mawlynnong’s community council banned the consumption of alcohol in the village, the pack of youngsters offloaded first their flailing bodies and then the makings of a raucous picnic: firewood, big metal cooking pots, live chickens, coolers filled with beer and big wireless speakers.
An hour later, the music from their party on the local soccer field drowned out the wafts of gospel music emanating from choir practice at the Anglican Church adjacent to the field.
Mawlynnong residents say the majority of visitors these days are from nearby villages, who care less about the village’s reputation than residents do.
After attempting to throw an empty bag of chips into a trash can and missing, Ornel Khonglah, who was from a town an hour’s drive away, said, “We’ve heard that Mawlynnong is an extraordinary place, so we decided to come here and enjoy the weekend. It is amazing, isn’t it?”
But how long can “amazing” last under relentless footfall? One local attraction, a massive boulder balancing on a much smaller rock, is covered in etchings of initial-filled hearts. The path to the living root bridge, which actually lies in the neighboring village of Riwai, has turned into a gridlocked highway of day visitors, their shouts audible from several hundred paces away.
At the bridge itself, children climbed the roots, jumping and doing stunts. The ground nearby was covered with the detritus one sees at any Indian tourist site: candy wrappers, empty water bottles, cigarette butts and orange peels. A man pretended to meditate under the bridge while his wife took a picture. Once she had, his eyes sprang open and he rushed to see whether it had come out to his liking.
Henry Kharymba, a longtime tour guide in Mawlynnong, sat collecting donations from incoming buses. “This used to be heaven, and now it’s hell,” he said, before chuckling. “But we need the money — if it just wasn’t for these fools. You know, they come here and drink and use slang in front of our sisters and our kids. We have to tell them that this isn’t a park. It’s a village.”
Mr. Laloo, the tourism developer, is exasperated with the changes and has now shifted his sights to a new village, Sohliya. In a phone interview, he said, “In ’09, you would’ve said, ‘Wow, I’ve walked into God’s private garden’ when you went there. Now, that place has no standards. They use concrete, and they have all kinds of shops.”
Meanwhile, Mawlynnong grapples with its double-edged influx of visitors with remarkable unity and a shared sense of caution.
One night last month, all of Mawlynnong’s men met in the village hall to discuss strengthening the ban on alcohol consumption. At the heart of the discussion was the question: Are these tourists really worth it?
07 March 2014

The Rape of Meghalaya

DSC00200By Shweta Taneja

Eight hundred dumper trucks filled to the brim with coal and limestone stand on the Indian side, patiently waiting to cross the border into Bangladesh and dump their load. That’s all they do, day in and day out. Pick up limestone and coal, dug out from the mountains of Meghalaya, head to the border at Dawki, cross into Bangladesh and dump it there. To be exported to China or be made into cement. Who knows? Who cares? The politicians, the landowners, the people of Meghalaya are making money. They are beginning to buy bigger cars and other good things in life.

The mountains of Meghalaya, are old, more ancient and wiser, more mysterious but also kinder than Himalayas.  Perhaps that is why they do not protest to being drilled, cut, stripped of their soil and stone. Maybe because it’s all legal: as in each truckload is given a wadload of paper, stamped by the government. Papers, dead trees license the owners to cut and grab and gobble.

‘The people who own the mountains are selling them,’ a guide we meet on the way to Dawki informs us. We stand on a high road, for a chai break with the valley on one side and the lush green curvaceous mountains behind. His voice is one of acceptance. ‘They were the ones who made gold by buying when the government was selling the mountains. Now, they sublet it to the contractors and they sell the land.’

By selling the land, the guide means, mining it away, selling the raw materials that might be lying in the womb of the mountains, that had been created and took hundreds of years to be created. All to be gone, in twenty years of senseless human greed.
DSC00199
DSC00205
(Trucks and trucks some more. All off to Bangladesh with loads)
‘Ten years ago, there was less of this, but it’s been increasing. The government wants it and the people who own the lands want to do it. ’

‘Doesn’t any of you protest against this?’

‘It’s not ours. The landowners are selling their land. Who’s to stop them?’

After that, a few men from Maharashtra, whose guide we have been speaking to, mutter about politicians and rich people and their greedy hearts. Their tea is finished. They try to throw the plastic cup across into the valley, but we point to a dustbin. The mountains, standing infront, look at it all, at us with our meaningless conversations as tourists who are equally disruptive on their ecology, at the trucks that roll heavy over them filled with stolen chunks of them and remain silent, patient. How can someone own the mountains? But then, how can we own anything of the land? But we do, don’t we?
At the border, at Dawki, the roads are mere trails of mud covered with long lines of trucks filled to the brim, waiting to cross the border and an equally long line coming from Bangladesh emptied of their load. We walk through the slush, dust clinging to everything. There are no tourists here, only silent eyes of men, labourers, or truck drivers. On our side, a long series of huts, with chairs and tables and typewriters and printers. To make the stealing official. To give it a seal, the seal of India’s government. To show, to cry out, to the mountains perhaps, that it’s all legal. That they’re all good men.  We are hesitant, even afraid, not sure how far we can walk. after all, the tourist stays in similar spaces, with other tourists. This is not that space. This is business, this is industry, this is supposed to stay hidden in dusts.

The border ends in a valley. A gate at one side, welcoming people to Bangladesh. We stand at ‘our’ side. The policeman in the hut, looks up.

‘What you want?’

‘We want to see.’

‘Ok,’ he says, to our surprise asking the BSF fellow with a gleaming, polished gun to show us the ‘border’. The BSF jawan is helpful, from UP, and waiting for just such an opportunity to jabber. He tells us how people across the border wait, day in day out, young men to cross the border.
‘Illegal immigrants?’ I ask.

‘No, no. They want to get booze. You see Bangladesh is a Muslim country and drinking is not allowed. Poor fellows want to drink. Sometimes they beg us to look the other way so that they can cross the border, get a fix and return. But I do wish that there was a fence between the borders. Right now, all there is are marked stones. It makes manning these fields rather impossible. But who’s to say. The upper echelon bosses want it this way.’

Cows graze in the flatland between the two countries, moving seamlessly from one side to another. No passports required for them, unlike us. A family from Bangladesh with a suitcase approaches the Indian side. Tourists, we are informed. ‘You can also go to the other side. It’s visa on arrival for both the countries,’ says the BSF guard. We, the city people, crib about how the government is mining the mountains away and no one seems to care.

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(The border at Dawki)
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(Our helpful BSF jawan)

‘The government is too greedy. they can make cement here, in Meghalaya, give work to more people, but they dig and sell the motherland away in peanuts. From Bangladesh it goes to China, the raw material, the earth. Why don’t they make cement here? She’s our mother, but no one cares about the mother now,’ he says wisely. ‘They don’t understand that we will lose the vantage point, the height of the mountains. Then they will attack and enslave us all. You see, madam, in a generation, we will be desperate to enter their country like the Bangladeshis want to enter ours now.’ We nod, and see and click pictures refusing to shrug off the tourist in us. He poses for us, still proud of his country. Not the people, but the country—his mother. He’s been trained to be proud.

Back in Shillong, my heart is still somewhat heavy. Even the lovely cottage I stay in, doesn’t cut it. I chat with the owner of the cottage, a lady who lives in Shillong and Bangalore.

‘Is there any activism in Meghalaya at all? Is anyone protesting this mining away of hills like in Karnataka?’

‘No one, dear,’ she says, kindly. ‘They don’t seem to see beyond the riches. What you saw was legal. The Jaintia hills have illegal mining of the forests and mountains by terrorists and we have no idea how much, since there’s no tracking, no paperwork.’

Me, with my privileged outlook, do not understand why. Why do those with trees and mountains and fresh air want to sell it off? Not hoard it, make love to it, cherish it. A college-dropout from Manipur, who meets me in the airplane back home, gives me the answer.

‘We want development,’ he says.

‘What kind of development? Jobs? What else?’

‘Jobs, yes. But development. More.’

He cannot express it but when he talks about Bangalore, a city of malls, traffic, people, energy, colour, human bustling, his eyes shine. For him, from Manipur, from Imphal, from the quiet mountains, the city life is the lure. He craves for that, just like me. I have lived in cities all my life and I love it. Can I live in Dawki? I don’t think I can. But I do dream of mountains and greenery and forests and trees. And a part of me wonders if we, the human race, with our greedy cravings, are going terribly wrong, somewhere.

So here’s a poem to perhaps express what my sentences could not. Perhaps not.

Dirty are the fingernails
Filthy
Not with the earth
But with jaded greed
Dead and dried
Of all emotion
Of everything
But the desire to own.
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Shovelling, cutting, whirring away
They claw the mountain side
Screaming in their destruction
Unbinding that which binds
Destroying that which gives life
For something that cannot be eaten,
Cannot be shat out
Cannot sustain life

For the coin, for the note
For the greedy eye.

I do hope this blog, somehow, somewhere, shows me or someone else a way to somehow stop it. With some hope.

It's Sangma vs Sangma again in 'abode of clouds'

By Manosh Das
Shillong, Mar 7 : With the announcement of Lok Sabha election dates for the two reserved seats of Shillong and Tura in Meghalaya on April 9, political parties in the hill state are now pulling up their socks in the right earnest.

While the sitting MP from Shillong is former Union minister Vincent Pala of Congress, youngest MP Agatha Sangma, who had won on an NCP ticket from Tura, is now active in the National People's Party (NPP), headed by her father Purno A Sangma.

Congress, which won a near majority with 29 seats in a house of 60 in the last assembly elections, is upbeat of wresting the Tura seat, considered to be a stronghold of the former Lok Sabha speaker P A Sangma, who unsuccessfully contested for the President's post last year.

"It will be Sangma vs Sangma again this time. But chief minister Mukul Sangma, who led the Congress to a comfortable win in the last state assembly polls, is now a force to reckon with in the Garo Hills," said a Congress functionary.

"The chief minister and other Congress veterans, including former chief minister DD Lapang, will be extensively touring the state to garner support for the party candidate," the Congressman said, even as he admitted that the party was yet to decide on whether to fight the polls with the sitting Shillong MP or go for a fresh face.

On the other hand, the NPP, which took a drubbing in the last assembly polls, hopes to use the "PA Sangma magic" in the Garo Hills. "He (Purno) is a vastly experienced political leader and has got several quivers in his archery," said an NPP leader. He added that the party is yet to come forward with the name of its nominees. The states that will go to polls along with Meghalaya on April 9 are Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. With the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls, the model code of conduct has come into effect from Wednesday.
21 February 2014

Meghalaya A Domain of Clouds and Hills

Saifur Rahman Tuheen
Shillong Peak
Shillong Peak
Nature lovers who have already visited the popular tourist spots of Bangladesh and are thinking of travelling abroad to an affordable place should definitely think of visiting Meghalaya. Shillong, the capital city of the north-eastern state of India which shares borders with Sylhet and Mymensingh, is commonly known as the Scotland of the East for its breathtaking landscapes and cool weather. Meghalaya is also home to Cherrapunji, which holds the world record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and in a year.
The geographical structure of the state is very similar to Darjeeling of West Bengal, Gangtok of Sikkim and Shimla of Himachal Pradesh but for Bangladeshis, Shillong would definitely be the most accessible and affordable choice. Bounded with lush green forests, hilly terrain, beautiful lakes, river valleys and exotic wildlife, the monsoonal beauties of Meghalaya is worth cherishing.
How to go
The best way to travel to Meghalaya from Bangladesh is by travelling from Sylhet to the Tamabil border, as that would be cost-effective, and you'd get the chance to enjoy the sights of this beautiful city. You can hire a car or microbus from the city which will take you to the Tamabil check post, which is about 45 kilometres from Sylhet. Wake up early in the morning to start your journey, as customs and immigration offices of both countries are relatively free at that time. If you are lucky, the formalities of the Bangladeshi immigration office will take you around half an hour. Once you are done with the formalities, you can just walk down the road to reach the Indian Customs and Immigration Office. Rest assured, you will be able to complete all the formalities and procedures at the Indian office in a much more efficient and faster manner than you would at the Bangladeshi immigration office.
You can then hire a taxi or a car which will take you to Shillong city. Public transport is also available until 11 am in the morning, but you might not find the commute to be very comfortable. Shillong is just 83 kilometres from the Dawki border and it will take you about two and half hours to reach the city. The journey in itself is a treat, as the uphill road is covered in lush green hills, waterfalls and magnificent valleys. Markets line up the road and you might even find a friendly face smiling and waving at you, silently welcoming you to their land.
Elephant Falls
Elephant Falls
After You Get There
Make sure that you start from the Dawki border before noon so that you can reach Shillong by afternoon. The Dawki to Shillong road is extremely unsafe for travellers after sunset. Before you embark on this journey, do remember to reserve a hotel room in Shillong online.  Most of the affordable hotels are located in Police Bazar, the heart of the city. Hotel Centre Point, Hotel Mikasa, Hotel JK International, Hotel Boulevard, Eden Residency, Hotel Embassy, Hotel Pine Borough are the reasonably priced and popular hotels of Police Bazar. If you are in the mood for something more comfortable and are not worried about the cost, you could opt for Hotel Pinewood, Hotel Orchid, Hotel Polo Towers, Hotel Pegasus Crown, and Hotel Alpine Continental, which are situated around the city. Many hotels provide package tour facilities with a guide and a reserved cab at affordable rates. To enjoy the beauty of the place, spare at least two to three days to visit all the breathtaking places in and around the city.
Places You Can Visit
Shillong Peak and Sohbetbneng Peak: The peaks are located 10 and 20 kilometres respectively from Shillong city.  Shillong Peak is the highest point in Meghalaya with a height of 1,961 meters above the sea level. On a clear, sunny day, you get a bird's eye view of the entire city from the Shillong peak.
The Sohbetbneng Peak is situated at a height of 1343 metres above the sea level. The peak is regarded as a place of religious importance for the tribes of Khasi, Jainita, and Bhoi. It offers a feeling and essence of spirituality, and is ideal for those seeking a bit of solace from the chaos of everyday life.                         
Ward's Lake and Umiam (Bara Pani) Lake: Ward's Lake is an artificial lake within the city. You should visit the place if you have kids with you, as they will enjoy the boat rides and the flora of the 100-year old lake.
Umiam Lake, which is more popularly known as Bara Pani, is 17 kilometres away from Shillong. If you are interested in riding in a speedboat or want to go for a quiet picnic with friends and family, then Bara Pani is the place for you.
Waterfalls: Sweet Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Meghalaya situated in the Happy Valley. Rengthiam Falls is another cascading waterfall situated at a distance of 15 kilometres from Shillong. Bishop and Beadon falls are two other magnificent waterfalls located in Suna Vally. But if you are pressed for time, and can only visit one waterfall, then do not miss the Elephant Falls, which is within boundaries of the city and is an experience in itself.
Shillong Golf Course: The third oldest golf course of India, the Shillong Golf Course is considered to be the 'Glen Eagle of the East' by the United States Golf Association and Museum. Developed in 1889 as a nine-hole course, it was later converted to an18-hole course in 1924 by Captain Jackson and C.K. Rhodes. It is set in a heaving valley covered with thick groves of pine and rhododendron trees at an altitude of 5,300 feet.
Cherrapunji: Located at an altitude of 4,500 feet above sea level, Cherrapunji has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as a place where the rainfall can be recorded in feet rather than in millimetres. Stunning valleys and rivers elevate the charm of Cherrapunji. The town is located some 60 kms from Shillong city, and you can take a car or bus to Cherrapunji in the morning and still get back to Shillong by afternoon.
Caves: The caves of Khasi Hills, Garo Hills and Jaintia Hills are special attractions for tourists visiting Meghalaya. Mawsmai Cave, Krem Mowmluh and Krem Dem are the notable caves of Khasi Hills while Jaintia Hills is home to Krem Kotsati and The Cave of Eocene Age, which offer a sense of adventure and mystery. Bok Bak Dobhakol, Siju-Dobhakol and Terengkol-Balwakol caves are some of the longest and intricate caves of the Garo Hills.
When to Visit: March to October, particularly March and April, and September and October are the ideal months to visit Meghalaya.
Cherrapunji
Cherrapunji
Published: 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2014
20 December 2013

Christmas Spirit Grips Hills

Shillong Turns Festive
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful — Norman Vincent Peale
Shillong, Dec 20 : Dipping mercury, chock-a-block roads, festive shoppers and an array of decorative lights across the streets are some of the prominent features in Meghalaya in the run-up to the festival of peace, joy, hope and love — Christmas.
Liberated momentarily from the agitation by pro-ILP pressure groups but bracing for the bandh call by rebels, the spirit of merry-making appears to be gripping this hill state notwithstanding the rapid drop in temperature.
In the capital city, and even at Tura, the nerve centre of the Garo hills region, people are busy preparing for Christmas with carols, get-togethers, prayer service, and feeding and clothing underprivileged children each passing day.
People in Garo hills are particularly enthusiastic during Christmas. One could hear carol-singing late into the night with the advent of Yuletide.
At the recently concluded Ahaia festival in Tura, a Christmas carol singing competition was a part of the itinerary.
Another significant aspect in the run-up to December 25 is the benevolence of people who came forward to offer a taste of the festive season to streetchildren.
Soon after the culmination of the Assembly polls in February, Meghalaya was plunged into a cycle of crises with the ILP agitation dominating the headlines.
However, with no fresh agitation until next year barring a bandh on Monday, people are now willing to welcome Christmas with pomp and gaiety, and above all, with peace, joy and hope.
This festive season is epitomised by music. The Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum has come forward to organise the Shillong Choir Festival, where renowned groups from the Northeast will sing at the State Central Library here on Monday to ring in the joyful season.
The Shillong Chamber Choir, which recently performed at Rashtrapati Bhavan, will be heading the evening musical show. Other groups include Serenity Choir, KERYGMA Choir, Mizo Presbyterian Choir and Ameu Useu and the choir.
The last is a renowned group from Nagaland while Serenity and KERYGMA are from Meghalaya.
To add to the gaiety, the forum will also put up a 17-foot Christmas tree, forum general secretary Ian Khongmen said.
“The Shillong Choir Festival is an effort to enrich and promote some positive effect in the city in this season of peace, joy, hope, brotherhood and reconciliation,” Khongmen said, adding that the forum plans to make the festival an annual affair.
04 December 2013

Village Chiefs reject bill to restrict entry of outsiders to Meghalaya

Shillong, Dec 4 : Tribal village chiefs today rejected the proposed bill aimed at containing entry of outsiders and illegal immigration by regulating tenancy in Meghalaya, saying it was not relevant to the issue.

"We resolved to reject the proposed bill outright as it is not related or relevant to the influx issue, but instead provides more scope for infiltration into the state," General Secretary, Synjuk ki Rangbah Shnong, R L Blah, said in a letter to Chief Minister Mukul Sangma.

Synjuk ki Rangbah Shnong (SRS) is a conglomeration of locality chiefs and chiefs of 43 villages in the state capital and on the outskirts of the city.

The SRS did not mention an alternative to the proposed bill nor did it mention whether they supported the pressure groups demanding introduction of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, that facilitated the restriction of outsiders into the state by way of an Inner Line Permit.

A ministerial committee headed by CnRD Minister Prestone Tynsong is in the process of conducting public consultations across the state on the proposed Meghalaya Regulations of Landlords and Verification of Tenants bill.

Students of colleges under the North Eastern Hill University have also rejected the bill during a special consultation held with them last month.
07 November 2013

Five Cops Killed in GNLA Ambush in Meghalaya

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Megghalaya‘Retaliation attack’ comes within 36 hours of killing of 7 villagers

Guwahati, Nov 7 : Five policemen were killed and their arms snatched away when a group of heavily armed militants belonging to the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) ambushed them in South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya Tuesday. The incident occurred less than 36 hours of the same rebel group gunning down seven innocent villagers in the adjoining Goalpara district in Assam. Meghalaya DGP Peter James Pynrope Hanaman, who confirmed that the militants belonged to the GNLA, described it as an act of retaliation of the rebels against the ongoing operations against them.

"It is definitely a retaliatory attack by the GNLA in view of the operations that the security forces have launched against them in the past few days. But I must admit there was some degree of complacency on the part of the policemen killed in the attack," DGP Hanaman told The Indian Express over the telephone from Shillong.

The police vehicle was on its way from Baghmara police station in South Garo Hills district to Tura (in West Garo Hills district) to bring an accused when it came under heavy fire at Bangjakona near Kapasipara, the DGP said. The incident occurred in the hilly area at around 11 am.

While all the five police personnel including the driver were killed on the spot before they could retaliate, the militants also snatched away their weapons that included three AK-series rifles and one carbine, the DGP said.

The victims have been identified as havaldar Dondiram Marak and constables Rakki Sangma, Lekichyne Ryngklem, Bipul Rabha and Marshanstar Nongdhar.

Security forces meanwhile have launched a massive operation in the area, but no breakthrough was made till late Tuesday evening. "The militant outfit has been in a disarray due to intensified operations by security forces in the past few months, and today's ambush was in retaliation to these operations," the DGP said.

Meanwhile, the police and security forces have also intensified operations along the Assam-Meghalaya border in Goalpara and adjoining districts of the Garo Hills in view of Sunday's attack by suspected GNLA militants in a village on the Assam side leaving seven persons dead.
04 November 2013

Meghalaya On Dengue Alert


Shillong, Nov 4
: Health authorities in Meghalaya Sunday sounded a dengue alert after 18 people from Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills, tested positive for the virus in about the last four days.

"We have sounded a dengue alert in the district after 18 people, who were down with flu-like symptoms for the past few days, tested positive for dengue," Pravin Bakshi, the district magistrate of West Garo Hills, told IANS.

Initially, the patients were admitted to the Tura civil hospital. They were later discharged, but are still under medication, the official said.

Bakshi said health officials have been issuing public notices to alert the people on the disease, while a team of medical officials from Shillong, Meghalaya state capital, rushed in to Tura to monitor the situation.

"A team of epidemiologists will also visit the district to study the pattern of the disease," Bakshi, who is also the chairman of the district health society, said.

Health officials will also undertake fogging in various localities to ensure that aedes mosquitoes, which are responsible for the outbreak of dengue, do not find breeding ground.

Bakshi said that he has directed hospital authorities across the state to provide adequate treatment and medicines to those suffering from the disease.

Dengue is a tropical disease. Common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains and skin rash. There is no vaccine for dengue and the only way to reduce infections is to improve hygiene levels so as to prevent mosquito bites and stop mosquitoes from breeding.

It is particularly difficult to create a vaccine because the disease is caused by different viruses and there are no animal models available for testing.

The disease kills over 5,000 Indians every year, and remains a seasonal threat, particularly during the monsoon.
07 October 2013

The Child Miners of Meghalaya

Thousands of children risk their lives to work in "rat hole" mines in northeastern Indian state, earning $60 a week.

Rosanna Lyngdoh of NGO Impulse with 11-year-old coal miner, Lakpa Tamang [Karishma Vyas/ Al Jazeera]
Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya: Pemba Tamang slides on his bright red gumboots, fits a torch to his head and says a little prayer. "God, please bring me back out alive."
He walks out of his tarpaulin shack wielding a pickaxe and swaggers across monsoon green hills to a 15-meter-deep pit dug crudely into the earth.
He will spend the next seven hours here, crouched deep inside a "rat hole" less than a meter high digging for coal. "You have no control over your life here,” he says. "Because you never know when you’re going to die."
Death is not something most 17-year-olds think about, but it has lingered over Pemba ever since he was eight, when he first came to Jaintia Hills in India’s northeast to work in the coal pits.
His father had just died from tuberculosis. Still nursing a five-week-old baby, Pemba’s mother moved the family from their dirt-poor village in neighbouring Assam state to the lucrative mines of Meghalaya so she could earn money selling food to truck drivers and labourers.
But it was never going to be enough to feed her three growing boys, and soon Pemba and his older brother started working in the "rat holes", earning about $60 each a week to support their family.
Impulse, a local NGO fighting child labour in Meghalaya state, estimates there are around 70,000 children like Pemba who work in the mines, either digging for coal or loading thousands of trucks bound for the energy-hungry industrial sector across India and into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Illegally trafficked
Hasina Kharbhih, the founder of Impulse, says she’s discovered children as young as five working in Jaintia Hills.
The mines are so small and narrow that only someone the size of a child can squeeze inside to extract the coal.
Web Exclusive: Indian child miner tells his story
Most of the under-age workers have been illegally trafficked into the region from Nepal and Bangladesh by agents working for mine owners.
Desperate families are promised handsome salaries in exchange for their children’s work, but they often have no idea that they will end up living in dangerous, slave-like conditions in Meghalaya.
"Many of the families out there are still looking for their children," says Kharbhih. "They haven’t heard from them for the last two or three years."

Some of these families at least will never see their children again. A few years ago local newspapers reported the discovery of skeletons inside mine shafts. They are believed to be those of children who worked there, but there has been no inquiry or arrest.
Many of the families out there are still looking for their children
Hasina Kharbhih, founder of Impulse
"Children have been dying in these rat holes and the dead bodies are not actually being taken back because it’s not possible. There’s no way they can get them out. And they are not being reported because in the context of our state, they’re illegal migrants," says Kharbhih.
Pemba is terrified of suffering the same fate.
"I’ve seen four accidents," he says squatting on a pile of coal. "There was this one guy who would always sit there in the mine chewing betel nut. One day this enormous rock fell on him and crushed his head. We sent his body back to the village. He had a wife and two kids."
Pemba laughs out loud when asked about compensation for the man’s family. "The owners give money to the managers and the most the managers give in compensation is Rs5000 ($80) or Rs6000 ($96). This man lost his life. What can you do with this much money?" he says.
"I’ve seen guys break their legs and crack their heads open. I don’t want these accidents to happen to me because then I’ll be crippled."
Pitch dark and dangerous
But there’s little Pemba can do to protect himself. Armed with his red boots and a pickaxe, he disappears into a black cave that has been carved into the side of a mountain. He struggles to pull a large wooden crate as he walks crouching further into the mine.
Inside, it is frightening. The workers say they can almost feel the weight of the mountain above bearing down on their bodies. It’s damp, pitch dark and dangerous.
With only a small head torch to guide him, Pemba picks coal off the walls and fills his crate, all the while struggling to breath in the sulphur rich air. The ceiling touches his head even as he squats. The only thing holding it up is a strategically placed wooden log.
Children as young as five work in Jaintia Hills [Karishma Vyas/ Al Jazeera]
It is common for these "rat holes" to suddenly flood, or for parts of the mine to cave in altogether. Workers, including children, have been buried alive, or trapped without any hope of rescue.
Activists say these conditions are inhuman and inexcusable. Coal mining generates millions of dollars a year in Meghalaya and contributes up to 10 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
Yet, there is no investment in the industry or in the workers, who labor without safety equipment, health cover or insurance.
Child rights advocates are demanding mine owners use modern, mechanical methods to dig for coal, so children would no longer be needed.
Despite requests for interviews with several state government representatives, including the ministers for social welfare and labour, no official was available to answer questions about the children working in Jaintia Hills.
Polluting state resources
However, Dolly Khonglah, a local coal exporter and the secretary of Meghalaya’s International Exporters Chamber of Commerce, struck a belligerent note.
She seemed furious that her industry was being criticised for polluting the state’s natural resources and for putting lives at risk.
"We have the stock of minerals that is God-gifted in our own private land," she said, surrounded by pro-mining protesters waving placards. "With this we are exporting to Bangladesh, we are fetching foreign exchange for the government of India, we are paying royalty. We are fetching revenue for the state government. We are providing employment to all the boys and girls."
Parents often have no idea that their children will end up living in dangerous, slave-like conditions [Karishma Vyas/ Al Jazeera]
But when asked about children working in coal mines, she denied any knowledge.
"Under limestone in Nongtalang elaka (village) there’s no child labour at all. You can quote me in any international news I don’t mind that," she insisted.
"We are not concerned with coal mining because we are dealing only with limestone."
Al Jazeera visited three out of the 5000 individual coal mines that operate across Jaintia Hills and met several child miners aged below 18 years.
The youngest was 11-year-old Lakpa Tamang from Nepal whose own father had died in a mine accident.

Pemba Tamang, who is not related to Lakpa, knows that children work in the coal pits because he’s one of them.
He had dreamt of a very different future, but his aspirations have been tempered by fate. Now, his only dream is to own a small piece of land that he can farm. Out in the open air, far above the mines.
"In my heart I still feel like going to school but what can I do?" he shrugs.
"I wanted to be a really good doctor, but fate didn’t let me do all this."
30 September 2013

Trip to Garo, Meghalaya's Lost Hills

(The lost hills of Meghalaya-…)

The Garo hills are part of the Garo-Khasi range in Meghalaya, India.

They are inhabited mainly by tribal dwellers, the majority of whom are Garo people. The range is part of the Meghalaya subtropical forests eco-region. Since Sohra (earlier name :- Cherrapunjee) and Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya lie in the West Khasi Hills region, as a result the bulk of tourism in Meghalaya is mainly concentrated within the Khasi Hills region. The Garo Hills, though occupying a substantial part of this undulating terrain, is predominantly lesser known and even lesser visited throughout the year.
People who reside in the Garo Hills are known as the Garos. Besides the Garo hills, there are Garo settlements in the plains of Assam and Bangladesh.

The Garos call themselves Achik-mande. In the Garo language Achik means Hills and mande, Man. So, Achik-mande means the Hills people.Garo Hills comprises 5 districts. Tura is the largest town with a population of about 70,000 located at the foothills of often cloud covered Tura peak. These places are rich reserves of natural flora and fauna.

A traditional Garo woman
Baghmara is the headquarters of South Garo Hills district in the state of Meghalaya in India. The place is bordered by Bangladesh and is about 113 km from Tura. A river known as Simsang flows through its expanse and is also covered in hills and tracts along the way.The river criss crosses the entire region and finally enters Bangladesh as Samleshwari. This region also houses the Balpakram National Park, famous for elephants and clouded leopards.

Baghmara Town, district of south Garo Hills
We hired a 4*4 Sumo from Sohra (Cherrapunjee) to Ranikhor, Ranikhor, lying close to the plains of Bangladesh, is a popular town In the Khasi district,. From Ranikhor, another 4*4 Mahindra Camper was provided by Samrakhshan Eco tours, one of the premier organizations dealing in community based eco tourism and conservations in Garo Hills. The journey was an absolute roller coaster ride with the border gates of both neighbouring countries providing a lot of thrill and wonder throughout. This part of the region is a porous border and if one zeroes into the google maps, there is a visible road through this area but the condition of the road is extremely pathetic due to the operation of large number of coal mining trucks.

River at Ranikhor
A better route is through Nonstoin to Baghmara from Shillong later joining NH62 which starts from Dudhnai and goes all the way to Tura through Williamnagar and Baghmara. The more regular and common route is from Guwahati to Baghmara through NH37 and later joining NH51 to Tura and further through NH62 to Baghmara.

How to get there
By Air
The nearest airport is Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport is also known as Guw?h?ti International Airport and was formerly known as (Borjhar Airport).

Baghmara is about 345 KM from Guwahati International Airport.

Guwahati airport is a major hub for flights to North-East India and limited international destinations.
Shillong and Tura are connected by regular scheduled helicopter services run by Pawan Hans. Shillong (30 min), Tura (50 min), Naharlagun ( Itanagar), Tawang (75 min).

By rail
The nearest railway station is in Guwahati. Baghmara is 320 km from Guwahati Railway Station.
Guwahati is connected by train with major cities like Kolkata, New Delhi, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and Mumbai.
I took the Saraighat Express which leaves Howrah at 3:50 PM and reaches Guwahati at 9:30 AM in the morning.

By road
There is only one overnight bus service available from Guwahati to Baghmara. However, there are regular overnight bus services available to Tura (Nearest town which is well connected to Baghmara). Buses start from ISBT, Guwahati at 8:30 PM and reach Tura at 4 AM and Baghmara at 9 AM respectively. A ticket to Tura will be around Rs 250 per head and to Baghmara, it will be Rs 320 per head.

From Tura, there are customary shared sumo services available for Baghmara. The distance from Tura to Baghmara is around 106 KM and the journey takes around 3 and a half hours. A single ticket costs Rs 150 and the shared sumo services are available from 6 in the morning till 2 in the afternoon.
Alternatively, there are shared taxi services available from Bharalumukh, Guwahati to Tura which depart at 6 AM and 2 PM. The drive is 6 hours long.

Climate
The best season to visit this region is during the monsoons i.e. July-September and also in the winters i.e. around November-December as this region remains pretty warm and sunny in the summers.

Where to stay
We stayed in Baghmara Tourist Guest House which is located at the high hillock of Baghmara town offers a bird's eye view of the region's landscape and Simsang River. The Baghmara Tourist Guest House has all the basic facilities for a comfortable stay.

Meghalaya is 'Least Developed' State: CM Sangma

Shillong, Sep 30 : Welcoming the Rajan panel report, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma admitted that Meghalaya is "least developed" state.

"Is it not true? If it is not true, then why are our boys and youths joining the militants?" asked Sangma to a query on the report at a news conference.

"We are far behind, and we need to catch up with the rest of the country. Forget about the world. If you are looking from a global perspective, India itself has to catch up with the rest of the world," he said.

The panel for "Evolving a Composite Development Index of States", headed by the then chief economic advisor Raghuram Govind Rajan, now the Reserve Bank of India governor, was set up by the central government amid demand by Bihar for "special category" status.

Based on the multi dimensional index scores, the 10 least developed states are Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Describing Rajan's panel as "true", Sangma said, "We have many things to do. A number of initiatives are on from the government. Meghalaya should be a destination for everything which would open up hundreds of new opportunities for our youths. That is what we are looking at."

"We are candid in saying that we are behind. We are much behind despite having the potentialities and the strength among the people. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to create an enabling environment so that at the end of the day, people will stand to gain."
23 September 2013

Meghalaya: Activists Call For 5 Night Road Blockade

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Sep 23
: The agitation for introduction of an Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Meghalaya, which will check the inflow of "outsiders", continued on Sunday as 10 pressure groups called for a five-night road blockade in the hill state starting Monday.

Pro-ILP groups have said they will "enforce" the blockade from 8 pm to 5 am for five days, while their members will picket government offices on September 26 and 27. The groups include student bodies like Khasi Students' Union and Garo Students' Union, and NGOs like Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People and Civil Society Women's Organization.

"We have decided to go ahead with our next phase of action in protest of the state's adamant attitude against the the high-level committee recommendation of implementing an Inner Line Permit system in Meghalaya," Eldie N Lyngdoh, joint spokesperson of the 10 groups said in Shillong on Sunday.

Last year, the high-level committee had recommended the introduction of the ILP but with changes. The committee had proposed an ILP that would ensure the participation of traditional institutions, NGOs and civil society, apart from making sure genuine residents of the state were not harassed.

Chief minister Mukul Sangma had turned down the recommendation in favour of a more 'comprehensive mechanism' that would, instead of the "archaic" ILP system, put in place a stringent tenancy law.

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