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DD Lapang, coalition discuss uranium

The Meghalaya CM takes the 'dinner diplomacy' route to tide over mining row, reports Rahul Karmakar.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2007 20:37 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Meghalaya Chief Minister DD Lapang took the "dinner diplomacy" route on Tuesday evening to assuage anti-uranium mining coalition partners. Tempers within the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) and outside had risen after the West Khasi Hills district authorities, Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB), UCIL and AMD officials conducted the public hearing at Nongbah Jynrin earlier in the day amid protests and total shutdown.

At the centre of the uranium row, Nongbah Jynrin is where UCIL’s uranium mining project is proposed to be set up. This tiny hamlet of 10 scattered households by the Kylleng river sits over an estimated 13,000 tonnes of uranium oxide along with five other villages—Mawthabah, Nongtnger, New Nongtnger, Nongmalang and Lang Myndia—some 145 km from state capital Shillong. These villages are in the greater Domiasiat uranium zone in West Khasi Hills district bordering Bangladesh.

"We have organised the public hearing successfully despite the heavy odds, but there’s a lot to do before the project actually starts," said Lapang before the ‘emergency’ CLP meeting followed by that of the MDA at his official residence.

Though he did not specify, his indication was at coalition partners Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) and Hill State Peoples Democratic Party (HSPDP).

Allies of the Congress in the MDA government, both KHNAM and HSPDP are opposed to the Rs 1,000 crore uranium project. Their support is crucial for the Congress-led coalition, which has a strength of 39 in the 60-member House.

Earlier in the day, DIG (eastern range) AS Rynjah told Hindustan Times: "The public hearing happened without any hitch thanks to watertight security. Some 700 villagers in the vicinity took part without any fear."

MSPCB chief Ponkupar Hooroo declined to tell the outcome of the hearing, but said there were "sufficient opportunities for the people to express their views, both for and against the government" vis-à-vis uranium mining.

However, the Khasi Students Union (KSU) termed the exercise a "farce" and vowed not to allow the project—it was adjudged viable in 1992—to take off.

John F Kharshiing, chairman of Federation of Khasi States, parroted the KSU, maintaining that the project was not worth the impact on the environment and health of tribal people in Meghalaya.