Meghalaya, a living example of the so-called ‘Green Community’- But, for how long?


The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river – Ross Perot

In the recent past, a great hype has been created about the concept of 'Sustainibility' and 'Green Economy'. the phrase, 'The importance of a sustainable lifestyle keeping in mind the necessity of preserving resources for the future generations', has been etched into our minds to such an extent that despite knowing the phrase by heart, we have failed to implement it in the real context.

In a recent event that took place at the Asian Confluence in Shillong, Meghalaya, the concept of 'Green Economy' was effectively highlighted by Heinrich Boll Foundation, the Green Political foundation from Germany affiliated to the Greens Political Party. Representing the foundation was Miss. Barbara UnmuBig, the Co-president.

In the context of the development of the Northeastern region, the concept of Green Economy was highlighted as being one of the most important. Due to the region being rich in mineral and natural resources, it has great potential for economic growth but is also very vulnerable to environmentally degrading activities- mining, deforestation and the likes.

However, it may be mentioned that in Northeast India, communities play a significant role on the use of resources. The strong community bonds in the region contributes greatly to preservation of various sacred forests and a living example of the same is the Sacred Groves of Meghalaya. The people of Meghalaya believe that the sacred groves are the abode of deities. The grove at Mawphlang, near Shillong has attracted many eminent and internationally known botanists.

The Sacred Groves at Mawphlang, Meghalaya

Sacred groves are forest fragments, which are protected by religious communities, and have a significant religious connotation for the protecting community. Local people believe that the Sylvan deities would be offended if trees are cut and twigs, flowers, fruits, etc. are plucked.The information on floristic richness of the sacred groves of Meghalaya revealed that at least 514 species representing 340 genera and 131 families are present in these sacred forests.

The Sacred Groves at Mawphlang, Meghalaya

The sacred grove biodiversity compares favorably with that of the core area of some of the biosphere reserves in this region (Nokrek biosphere reserve), which are being managed by the state forest department. This bears testimony to the efficacy of the traditional forest management systems practiced by the locals.

However, it may be mentioned that despite strong community bindings, various natural resources are gradually facing the brunt of mankind. An example in this regard would be of the Lukha and the Myntdu Rivers in Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya. The drastic change in the color of these rivers has not yet garnered enough attention, nor from the community or evn from the authorities concerned. In Pnar, Myntdu is known as Ka Tawiar Takan, meaning "our guardian angel." Today, the "guardian angel" is lifeless; decades of coal mining in the Jaintia Hills have all but destroyed this once thriving river.

The surreal but dead Lukha river in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had earlier indicated in a report that the high acid content in the rivers will prevent the sustenance of any life forms. It also declared the water unfit for consumption. The pH values of most of the sampling locations flouted both the national and global permissible limits prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for drinking water and by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Myntdu River, Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya

It may be recalled that in the year 2007, the local fishing livelihood sufferred a major blow due to the death of fishes and other forms of live within the rivers. Some of the recent evidences were the death of fishes seen floating over a distance of 25 Kms on the water surface of the Lukha river. A 2008 investigation report on the contamination of Lukha river by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) indicated that Lukha was polluted and had turned blue as the its tributary, the Lunar river was highly acidic and reacted with the limestone effluents causing the bluish tint in the river. The contaminants of the coal and limestone leaching and effluents were so lethal that it killed the life forms in the tributary as well as the Lukha river. Recent studies also revealed that the direct contact of wastewater from the cement plants coupled with the unsustainable open cast mining has an adverse impact on the physico-chemical characteristics of the waters of the region.

The pathetic plight of the Wah Umkhrah River in Meghalaya

Talking about the pathetic state of the Wah Umkhrah River, in the midst of greenery there lies a drying up and polluted river, the Umiam (um- water; iam- cry in the local dialect) River fed by two main rivers of Shillong City- the Umshyrpi and Wah Umkhrah. These two rivers were once pristine but with urbanization, unethical and unscrupulous practices they are now the sink of city solid waste and sewage. They flow all along the city until they meet at Wah Roro and ultimately Umiam River where it is dammed for a hydel project.

When the Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma was questioned with respect to the two rivers, he emphasized on the role of community in bringing about a positive change in the state of these 2 rivers. He also mentioned that policies in sync with people are in progress for tackling the menace.

However, a point to be noted is that since 2014 and beyond, the state of the rivers have deteriorated rapidly yet not much has been done in this regard. This raises a serious question on the role of community, or the so-called 'Green Community' in not only Meghalaya but also Northeast India. A state that has so carefully and lovingly preserved the Sacred Forests on one hand is finding it difficult to revive two of its most important rivers. Does this signify that our Communities are becoming weaker with each passing day. As individuals, it is important to try and take responsibilities for our own actions as for how long are we going to remain dependent of the so-called authorities? No amount of conferences, events, lecture sessions and documentaries by people from various parts of the world can bring about a change in our mindsets until and unless we decide to act! We are already half way through to the destruction but it is never too late!

-By Shweta Raj Kanwar

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own and TNT-The Northeast Today may or may not subscribe to the same views. 

Image Courtesy: Down to Earth, Rustik Travel