Wildlife team to visit before uranium drilling in Meghalaya

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - 19:01

Shillong: The standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) will send a site inspection team to Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya to ascertain people`s views on the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) proposal to conduct its exploratory mission in the park.

The DAE has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to de-notify an area of eight sq km on the Rongcheng plateau along the environs of Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya South Garo Hills for exploration of uranium ore.

"Survey in the recent years has identified possibility of economical uranium mineralisation in the Rongcheng plateau," a DAE official said.

He said the DAE wanted to start the exploration exercise to mainly confirm the uranium deposits to meet the country`s nuclear energy requirement which will be to the tune of 20,000 MW by 2020.

On Tuesday, the board standing committee meeting, chaired by Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi, decided to depute a site inspection team to Balpakram.

"We will be visiting Balpakram later this month to seek the views of the people on the DAE`s proposed exploratory drilling of uranium, and submit a report to the standing committee," NBWL member Bibhab Talukdar said.

The 220 square km Balpakram National Park, apart from being an ecological hotspot, is also a sacred place for the indigenous Garo community in Meghalaya hills. The park is also called land of the eternal death in Garo mythology, as it is believed that the spirits of the dead reside here.

It is also believed by Hindus that Hanuman, while looking for the herb `sanjeevani` with which to cure Laxman, who was injured in the battle against Ravana, found it in Balpakram.

The area is home to rare and endangered species of wild life which include the hoolock gibbons, slow loris, tigers and elephants.

State Chief Wildlife Warden Sunil Kumar said that the proposed exploration drilling exercise will have no biotic interference in the park.

"Since the drilling exercise is of temporary nature, which will be carried out as a day time activity I don`t think it will disturb the landscape or ecology of the area," Kumar said.

"Once the exercise is completed. The drilling areas will be restored to ensure that there is biotic interference in Balpakram," he said.

However, several NGOs, including the powerful Garo Students` Union (GSU) has opposed the DAE`s proposal to conduct its drilling exercise inside the national park.

"We oppose DAE`s move to explore uranium deposits inside the park and we have also decided to ban outsiders and government officials from entering Balpakram," GSU president Alex Sangma said.

The drilling exercise, he said would surely affect the fragile biodiversity of Balpakram and would be tantamount to encroaching on the tribal rights.

Meanwhile, the GSU will send a letter to Chief Minister DD Lapang to oppose any move to de-notify eight sq km the Rongcheng Plateau to facilitate exploration of uranium.

Earlier, the DAE has discovered about 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits in Meghalaya.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) plans to produce 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year and process 1,500 tonnes of the mineral a day.

It has also proposed to set up a Rs.1,046-crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant in Meghalaya`s West Khasi Hills district, which has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.

IANS



First Published: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - 19:01

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