Divided opinions on Uranium mining in Meghalaya

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Shillong, Aug 23 (UNI) Two allies of the ruling Meghalaya Progressive Alliance (MPA) have decided to continue to oppose the open-cast uranium mining, even as some of the anti-uranium mining groups have softened their stand on mining of the nuclear ore in the state.

Meghalaya has an estimated deposit of 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore that can take care of 16 per cent of the Atomic Energy Commission's requirement.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has proposed a Rs 1,046 crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant at Mawthabah in West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, which has an estimated deposit of 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore.

However, the UCIL since 1992, has failed to convince the state government, political parties and anti-mining groups due to apprehension of radiation-related health hazards.

''We will not allow anyone to start uranium mining until they can protect people from radiation. I don't want to see my own people dying due to radiation,'' Deputy Chief Minister Hoping Stone Lyngdoh, also the leader of the Hill State People's Democratic Party, told UNI today.

The HSPDP is an ally of the ruling United Democratic Party-led Meghalaya Progressive Alliance (MPA) government. Likewise, another ally of the MPA, the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), has decided to continue to oppose the project, citing that it will adversely affect the indigenous people due to radiation.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's emissaries - Union Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar - held extensive parleys with Chief Minister Dr Donkupar Roy, members of the All-Party Committee on Uranium Mining and anti-uranium mining groups.

Dr Kakodkar and Mr Chandrasekhar briefed them with power point presentations and data to convince those opposing to change their stand.

''The general impression that we have of the reactions (of various NGOs and civil society groups) to the uranium mining project in Meghalaya varied, there were some who welcomed the project, some were open-minded, while some opposed it citing health hazards, but we continue to dispel their fears,'' Mr Chandrasekhar said.

Likewise, the Khasi Student's Union, which spearheaded the anti-mining movement, vowed to stick to their stand against uranium mining.

''We will continue to oppose the mining as it will result in displacement of 30,000 people and endanger the health of the people,'' KSU chief Samuel Jyrwa said.

''They assured us that the Centre will not go against the wishes of the people and force uranium mining on the state,'' he said.

The Prime Minister's emissaries, however, garnered hopes about possiblity of starting the project with other NGOs - the Federation of Khasi Jaintia Garo People, Hynniewtrep National Youth Front, West Khasi Hills Student's Union and Garo Student's Union - maintaining their neutral stand on the issue.

''We are neither for uranium mining nor against it. We are yet to be clear on the radiation effects as we are not experts on the issue. Since the state government has constituted the All-Party Committee on Uranium Mining, let us wait for its report and stand of the state government,'' FKJGP general secretary Joe Marwein said.

UNI RRK DPM PKC 1358

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