The anti-uranium mining lobby in Meghalaya led by Khasi Students Union (KSU) chalked out a series of agitation on Wednesday. But the Congress-led alliance government has refused to back away from allowing Uranium Corporation of India Limited carry out its pre-project development activities in the hill state's West Khasi Hills district.
UCIL's pre-project package, worth Rs. 209 crore out of an estimated Rs. 1000 crore for Kylleng-Pyndengsohiong Uranium Project, is believed to be the precursor to starting mining in the Mawthabah area close to the Indo-Bangladesh border. The DD Lapang government had on August 24 assented to this package.
"This package is a sham, since it is aimed development within the proposed complex of UCIL in the uranium-rich area. But the government still claims it would be beneficial for the entire area comprising over 80 villages," KSU president Samuel Jyrwa told Hindustan Times from Shillong.
He added the KSU and other anti-uranium organizations - Hill State Peoples' Democratic Party, Langrin Youth Welfare Association and Nongtre Youth Welfare Organisation - decided Wednesday evening to intensify agitation if peaceful demonstrations from September 18 failed to move the government.
The KSU had set the government a 15-day deadline that expired on Tuesday. But chief minister Lapang, unperturbed, maintained his government would not revoke the decision on leasing 422 hectares of land to UCIL for 30 years in the uranium belt, some 140 km southwest of State capital Shillong.
The government also propped up a pro-uranium body of "stakeholders" named Associations of Meghalaya for Development and Advancement to push for mining in the Mawthabah area. This body, however, split soon after its creation with the splinter group ending up opposing mining.
The proposed uranium project has been hanging fire since the Atomic Minerals Divison found 9,500 tons of uranium oxide deposits in 9.22 million tons of ore in 1984. But opposition by locals forced abandonment of the project in 1992.
According to UCIL, areas within a 20 km radius of Mawthabah account for 16 per cent of India's uranium reserves at present levels. Besides belonging to a superior grade, the Meghalaya ore has a recovery percentage of 0.1 compared to 0.02-0.06 at Jadugoda in Jharkhand, and is believed crucial for India's nuclear ambitions.